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McLaren explains comedy of errors that led to Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 nightmare

MONTE CARLO, Monaco — McLaren CEO Zak Brown has elaborated on the string of mistakes that snowballed into Fernando Alonso’s shocking failure to qualify for this year’s Indy 500.

A report by the Associated Press earlier this week listed what it called the “comedy of errors” that led to Sunday’s result, where Alonso and McLaren were bumped by Kyle Kaiser and the small Juncos team, which arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a plain white livery after losing two major sponsors ahead of the race.

The report said:

  • The team’s opening test at the Texas Motor Speedway was delayed because the team did not have a steering wheel for Alonso’s car. Brown had to personally secure one from Cosworth for the test.

  • McLaren’s Indy 500 car was painted the wrong shade of orange, so the spare was taken back to technical partner Carlin’s factory to be recoloured.

  • As a result, when Alonso crashed the main car on Wednesday last week, its spare was in pieces at Carlin’s factory, costing the British team two days of track time. Most other teams can move to a backup car in a short space of time.

  • A mistake made in converting inches to the metric system used by British teams meant Alonso’s car scraped along the floor on his first lap back on track.

  • Despite the delays, the team managed to set the car up in time for the “Bump Day” shootout but made a critical error — giving the car incorrect gear ratios, meaning it was set up for a top speed of 227.9 mph when it could, in fact, do 229 mph.

When asked to comment on the AP story on Thursday in front of the media ahead of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, Brown confirmed the details of the story were true, although he moved to clarify some aspects.

“Everything that was said was correct, but let me give a little context around things like the steering wheel, because it’s not like we showed up to the test and went ‘someone forgot the steering wheel,'” he said. “We were going to do our own steering wheel, and we didn’t get it done in time.

“You need a steering wheel. Cosworth, you can buy them off the shelf, but they didn’t have any on the shelf, so I had to pull some favours, and Carlin helped to get us a steering wheel. So everything in there was factual, but as you can imagine, there’s a story behind all of those elements.

“It’s not like we unpacked the bags and we forgot a steering wheel, that’s not what happened. Everything in there, I thought it was important. I share what happened. It’s tough, because I know it opens yourself up for a lot of criticism, but when you don’t perform, I think a good CEO stands up and takes accountability and responsibility for it.”

On the repainting of the car, he said: “It was off-colour. Ultimately because that was going to become our spare car. For reasons I still need to dig into, we didn’t get it repainted in time.

“So when the spare car was required, it was not yet ready. It was orange, but it was not to our standard, and we didn’t get it back painted and back in a true spare state in time, which was a huge mistake.”

Brown said the delay to the Texas test was ultimately something the team never recovered from. The American drew on one of the most famous blunders in baseball — Bill Buckner’s infamous 1986 gaffe for the Boston Red Sox — to highlight how there was no one thing that happened at Indianapolis itself that on its own led to Alonso failing to qualify.

“It was a variety of errors, and then it becomes a snowball effect. So when you’re not prepared in Texas, you never really recover from that. You can look at each individual mistake and kind of critique it, but you can actually point to the mistake before as the cause of the mistake before that.

“I don’t know how many of you follow baseball, when Bill Buckner had the ground ball go through his legs and he ‘lost’ the World Series. Well, they lost three games before that; he just made the final high-publicity error. I think that’s what happened here.

“There were a lot of mistakes that snowballed, and those need to be corrected. But the good news is I can look back now and see a lot of what we would do differently. I’m not sat here scratching my head, not being able to understand why it was a failed attempt.

“It’s pretty black and white where the mistakes were made, but I want to dig even deeper and do a proper debrief with the team.”

The head of McLaren’s Indy 500 project, former Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley, left the team on Monday. Despite that, Brown insisted the blame rests on his shoulders.

“I’m ultimately responsible for the lack of success at Indianapolis. There are things I would do differently. I wish I had brought Gil [de Ferran, McLaren sporting director] in sooner, but one of the promises we made to ourselves is we would not compromise our Formula One programme at all, and I think we are moving forward in Formula One.

“I couldn’t redirect Gil until Andreas [Seidl] came, and that’s when he went to Indy, and by that point I think we were already too far behind the eight-ball.”

Brown insisted the episode — which he named his lowest in 25 years of racing — has not changed his desire to take McLaren back to the Indy 500 in future.

“To not do something is easy, but that’s not what I think winners do.”

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