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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

4 Burning Questions: What’s Next for McLaren?

What’s next for the McLaren IndyCar program?

McLaren, one of the greatest Formula 1 teams in history, fell flat on its face last Sunday after stumbling through its second attempt at racing in IndyCar.

It turns out that having millions upon millions of dollars at its disposal, setup and damper help from Team Penske and Andretti-Green Racing respectively, and last but not least a world class driver in Fernando Alonso just isn’t enough to secure an Indianapolis 500 berth these days. What’s more is that the team was bounced out of the show by Juncos Racing, a comparatively minuscule team that, while having success at the Indy Lights level, has done much of nothing in a year of (mostly) full-time IndyCar competition.

The day after, the AP put out an in-depth article detailing how and why this happened, showcasing a situation that sounds like a Chuck Jones-era Looney Tunes short. CEO Zak Brown admitted fault, but not without also throwing partner Carlin Racing under the bus. And to be fair, this is a team that entered three cars for the 500 along with the McLaren entry and two ended up missing the show in addition to McLaren.

Still, one must ultimately blame McLaren for its Indianapolis shortcomings, not anybody else. McLaren lost a day of invaluable practice in its backup because it dared to be the wrong shade of orange. Orange! Like it doesn’t matter if the car was hot pink or poop brown; deciding to give up a day of practice just because you think you don’t need it ultimately is a sign of disrespect to everybody in that garage. It’s a show of arrogance that Brown refuses to admit the team came into this situation unprepared.

After that kind of showing, I’d be looking at leaving if I were Alonso whenever my contract renewal occurred — that is, if he really does want to complete the Triple Crown. Brown has indicated that the Spaniard is under contract “beyond the Indy 500” but that it’s also “our current last race scheduled,” which is hilarious to think about if Alonso’s run with the team does end with riding off in that golf cart after qualifying.

As for McLaren, it’s going to have to learn that you cannot simply walk in and be an immediate threat to dominate in American motorsports by throwing money around. That’s what Red Bull already proved in NASCAR and what McLaren had to learn the hard way in IndyCar. In addition to money, an outsider needs to be humble and have the proper personnel in order to succeed at this level, and hopefully McLaren figures that out whenever it decides to return to the series.

Who will come out on top in Monaco?

As has been the case all season, this F1 race is probably going to come down to two teammates at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Mercedes has not won in Monaco since 2016, and both drivers will look to both rectify that and continue their streak of top-two finishes.

Hamilton will be gunning for his third Monaco victory, while Bottas has never finished on podium at the narrow 2-mile street course.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen seems on paper to be Mercedes’ biggest threat this weekend, but there are two glaring problems with which the 21-year-old will have to contend. One is that Verstappen has never finished higher than fifth at Monaco, and the other is that he has never won a pole in his F1 career. This would normally not be a deal-breaker, but Monaco is beyond notorious for being the hardest track to pass at in the world, regardless of series. In the last six years, Monaco has only seen just five lead changes in F1 competition, with Daniel Ricciardo winning the pole and leading every lap last year en route to his first Monaco win. This race will more than likely be lost or won on Saturday morning.

What will happen in the Indianapolis 500?

For the first time ever, NBC will be covering this race, taking the reins from ABC after over 60 years of Memorial Day weekend coverage of the event.

The Indy cars have been extremely loose and unstable this month, with a number of extremely talented drivers such as Alonso and James Hinchcliffe wrecking and being forced to go to backup cars thanks to bad gusts of wind. Imagine just how ridiculous the racing is going to get out there with 33 cars instead of just one.

Points leader Josef Newgarden will be attempting to add to his lead after a rough day a couple of weeks ago at the Indianapolis Grand Prix. With double points on the line this weekend and Scott Dixon just six points back now, it’s going to be imperative of Newgarden to at least have a decent day on Sunday.

My pick for this race is Ed Carpenter. The hometown hero has had success after success at qualifying, having won the 500 pole three times in his career and will start second on Sunday. Last year, Carpenter had arguably the best car of the day, leading 67 laps and finishing second to Will Power. But with Carpenter slowing down his driving career to focus on running his race team, this might be one of his final chances at bringing home the Borg Warner trophy.

Who will have the last laugh of the day at the Coca-Cola 600?

As usual, the best day of racing all year will end with the longest non-endurance race in North America, the Coca-Cola 600 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The All-Star Race last Saturday night didn’t really tell us a whole lot about what the racing in the 600 is going to look like, thanks to the different rules package. But one driver who seems like he’s going to be a major factor Sunday night is Kevin Harvick. Harvick had the best car in the All-Star Race but couldn’t quite beat Kyle Larson in the closing laps. With longer green flag runs planned for Sunday night and Harvick’s car seemingly being better at the long runs last weekend, we could see another driver dominate the 600 in Harvick.

William Byron also turned some heads last weekend, advancing out of the open and spending much of the All-Star Race in the top five. Byron backed that up by winning the pole for the 600 on Thursday night, just the hometown driver’s second pole in his career. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman will also be looking at moving up just one more position, having finished second in the last three points races.

Finally, a driver that will be interesting to watch this weekend will be Bubba Wallace. Wallace had a fantastic All-Star weekend, advancing out of the open and finishing fifth in the main race. This was something Richard Petty Motorsports has desperately needed after a slow start to the year, and it’ll be interesting to see if this was a one-week anomaly or if the team has found something.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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