Zak Brown has only been in charge at McLaren since November but is already facing serious trouble
The team which bears the name of its founder Bruce McLaren is one of the most iconic in Formula One and in 2017 have returned to the orange livery which their cars first adopted in their very early days.
The mid-1990s saw the cars painted grey and silver, the colours which last saw them win a title, and 19 years later, new McLaren boss Zak Brown is desperate to end that drought.
A motor racing history buff and former driver himself, Brown was the driving force behind the return to orange and promised at the launch that a championship would not be far behind.
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At present, that statement looks like a farce.
With three races gone, McLaren’s two cars have just one completed race between them and even that saw F1 rookie Stoffel Vandoorne the last man across the line.
Fernando Alonso, two-time world champion and acknowledged as one of the grid’s very best drivers, has not finished a single Grand Prix.
The Spaniard, who has declined to hide his frustrations with the stricken Honda power unit, will now be allowed to miss the Monaco Grand Prix to race in Indy 500.
On the face of it, it’s an effort to placate an increasingly angry Alonso by giving him the chance to cement his place in history.
But in fact, they are throwing back to their founder, who took his Chevrolet V8-powered M6A to the race in the much more lucrative Canadian-American Challenge Cup. Brown wants it to be a watershed moment for the team.
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“We’re a bunch of racers at heart and we want to race around the world,” Brown told Express Sport.
“We have the chance to go to Indianapolis because of the unfortunate uncompetitive circumstances we find ourselves in right now in F1 but it’s a chance to get a huge morale boost for the team.
The Honda-powered McLaren has been the worst car of the F1 grid so far in 2017
Bruce McLaren took cars to Can-Am to race in America for bigger prizes
“Were we competing for race wins or a run at the championship we wouldn’t have done it.
“But we’re being opportunistic, looking for different areas where we can be successful together.
“Back in the good old days, racers used to race all different sorts of series.
"Mario Andretti did Daytona, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark did Indy 500.
“What’s nice is to take a bigger picture view and relax the rules that we’ve all put ourselves under in modern-day motor racing.”
Alonso could be a big part of that. The 35-year-old has conceded that he cannot catch Michael Schumacher’s record of seven F1 titles.
Instead, he is targeting the legendary ‘Triple Crown’ of wins at the Monaco Grand Prix, Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Only Graham Hill has achieved it.
The feat would elevate him even beyond McLaren himself, about whom a smoking, petrol-scented documentary will be released later this year.
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But even so, he cannot escape from the lack of horsepower McLaren are giving him. For all the opportunities Brown can offer him – he wants McLaren to become annual competitors at Indy 500 – the day job cannot continue to be as futile as it currently is.
“Fernando loves it here at McLaren and if we can give him a competitive McLaren-Honda next year then I think he’ll stay,” Brown added.
“He loves the environment and I think the fact that we’re going to do the Indy 500 together demonstrates the type of team we are.
“He thoroughly enjoys it here and I think he wants to stay.
“But he needs to see our car more competitive and that will drive his decision.
“I have no doubt he wants to stay and we love having him in the team.
“He needs to know that we’re capable of winning races next year.”
Alonso is without a race win since 2013 while McLaren have to go back another season for their last trip to the top step of the podium.
When Jenson Button won the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, it was with a Mercedes engine on board, the make that has powered the team of the same name to three consecutive F1 World Constructors’ Championships and sits in the impressive Force India and Williams cars in 2017.
Honda’s power unit meanwhile continues to reach new levels of incompetency – Vandoorne did not even start the Bahrain Grand Prix while development driver Oliver Turvey was forced off the track and into the garage after just two laps of Tuesday’s mid-season testing session.
Brown is desperate to make the Honda partnership work. Head of F1 project Yusuke Hasegawa is in near-constant conversation with Alonso on race weekend, trying to work out which part of the engine is producing the debilitating vibrations.
Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne have both been disappointed by the McLaren in 2017
However, the end of the season will likely end up being a tale of two contracts. One with Alonso’s name at the bottom of it, which expires in less than 12 months and another with Honda’s, which is understood to have a 2017 break clause.
It seems unlikely Brown will be able to get signatures on both and instead he will face a difficult choice. Honda’s presence across so many racing series may be the key to his vision for the team – but Alonso might be the driver to take them to the race wins.
The American boss will have to hope the decision is not made for him.