McLaren’s plans for its future driver line-up have come into focus, following news that the squad refused to release young gun Lando Norris to Red Bull B-team Toro Rosso from the Austrian Grand Prix onwards.
The rumoured stumbling block - said to be a clause committing the young Brit to Red Bull’s junior team through into 2019, could mean that McLaren has already decided to make Norris a race driver next year.
Should that be the case, the smart money is on him replacing two-time F1 World Champion, Fernando Alonso – with Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle predicting the Spaniard’s retirement from F1 is imminent.
“He gave me a distinct impression that he likely wouldn't be on the F1 grid next year,” Brundle said, following Monaco.
And while Monte Carlo was a difficult race for Alonso, retiring with gearbox issues, his 300th Grand Prix in Canada was little better with another DNF care of a broken charge air cooler pipe affecting boost pressure.
Despite that, Alonso became just the fourth member of F1’s 300 club, and the first-ever Spaniard, after record holder Rubens Barrichello on 326, then Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher.
But the 36-year-old is now focused on achieving motorsport’s Triple Crown – which includes the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and Le Mans, which Alonso will compete in for the first time this weekend.
… returning in 2019 for another attempt, along with another rumoured trip to Indianapolis for the blue-riband event. And, minor placings for McLaren in F1 paling in comparison.
SOUNDBITE (English) FERNANDO ALONSO,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I won two world championships. To drive around Monaco for a seventh place, a sixth place, even a fifth place. To be here is not possible to compare that thing, you know.”
Norris’ potential 2019 debut will also be a huge motivation for Stoffel Vandoorne, who could be jettisoned should Alonso decide to stay - and the Belgian in just his second full season.
The wheels are turning at McLaren – and as F1’s silly season gets into full swing, there’s plenty of intrigue, as one of the most exciting young talents looks set to make waves sooner rather than later.