Jenson Button is set to replace Fernando Alonso for the Monaco Grand Prix
The Indianapolis 500, to use its full name, is one of the biggest events on the American sporting calendar.
It is a 500-mile race – exactly 200 laps of the 2.5-mile rectangular circuit – which forms one part of motor racing’s ‘Triple Crown’.
Fernando Alonso has already secured the first leg twice over, having won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007. An Indy 500 triumph would make it two with just victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race required to equal Graham Hill’s unique achievement.
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That McLaren-Honda have allowed him the week off to go and race in the US, especially during such a landmark weekend in the F1 season when the circus descends on its glamorous spiritual home in Monte Carlo, is a sign of how desperate they are for Alonso to stay beyond the end of his current contract which has less than a year left to run.
The Woking-based outfit will not want to have to find a replacement, but in the short-term they must, as they have a vacant seat in their misfiring car to fill at the end of May.
"Fernando's replacement driver is not in place," McLaren executive director Zak Brown said.
“Those conversations are ongoing.
“We have a few different options and we will state who that is when we know.”
Racing director Eric Boullier is understood to have been given the responsibility of making a final recommendation from the drivers available.
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McLaren are in Bahrain ahead of Sunday’s third Grand Prix of the season and will remain there for testing, a period during which a potential replacement could be given some track time.
Jenson Button is currently listed as McLaren’s reserve driver, although the intricacies of his contract, negotiated with ousted chief Ron Dennis before his departure last year, are not clear.
And the BBC claim Button will be given the drive with no other viable options.
Jenson Button has stayed fit but has not been training for the unique challenge of driving an F1 car
Fernando Alonso has not finished either of the first two Grands Prix of the year
The veteran Brit is officially on sabbatical and while he is a regular triathlon competitor, it remains to be seen whether he is in the right shape to take on the 2017 breed of newly beefed up F1 car.
Sky Sports’ F1 expert Ted Kravitz reckoned, when he saw Button at pre-season testing, that his neck muscles had shrunk and it would take a lot to get him back to a level where he could compete.
And in fact, he could be more valuable to McLaren off the track. In all likelihood, the Honda-underpowered car will be racing at the back of the pack even if the Japanese engine suppliers make huge gains in the next six weeks.
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Button’s skills – while undoubtedly impressive – are unlikely to make up the massive deficit to the rest of the field. Instead, he would be better off in his ambassador role, swanning around hospitality suites and making some people’s days by offering them a vol-au-vent.
Need a driver? Enter Lando Norris.
The 17-year-old is one of British racing’s most promising young drivers – in 2016, he won a title in the Toyota Racing Series and took the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and NEC series. He also picked up four wins in 11 races in the British Formula 3 Championship.
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In February, McLaren executive director Zak Brown snapped up the “fabulous prospect” on the team’s young driver programme, a move Norris heralded as another step on his journey to F1.
The teenager is by no means first in line to drive at Monaco – Nobuharu Matsushita, Oliver Turvey and Nyck de Vries would all consider themselves ahead of him in the McLaren development pecking order and drive in more senior series.
However, if Monaco is to be a positive PR exercise for McLaren – and let’s face it, it’s not about racing for them given their struggles – then perhaps handing a stunning debut to one of Britain’s rising talents is the best way to ensure it.