McLaren IndyCar president Fernley leaving team after Alonso fails to qualify for Indy 500

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McLaren IndyCar president Robert Fernley is leaving the team, RaceFans has learned from sources with knowledge of situation.

Fernley was placed on gardening leave pending his departure less than 24 hours after Fernando Alonso failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso missed out on his chance to compete in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 when Kyle Kaiser took 33rd place from him on the final lap of yesterday’s ‘Last Row Shootout’, the qualifying session to decide the back row of the grid. Kaiser averaged 227.372mph (365.919kph) over his four-lap run compared to Alonso’s 227.353mph (365.889kph).

The team’s preparations for qualifying were disrupted when Alonso suffered a heavy crash during practice. In Saturday’s first qualifying session he missed out on taking one of the guaranteed sports in the race by 0.02mph following a series of setbacks including a puncture on one of his runs.

Fernley, who was previously deputy team principal at Force India, was put in charge of McLaren’s IndyCar programme in November last year. The team purchased two Dallara DW12 chassis for its single-car entry into this year’s Indy 500, the only race of the 17-round IndyCar season it is contesting. Part of Fernley’s remit included assessing the potential for a long-term involvement in the series by McLaren.

Alonso had set his sights on winning the Indianapolis 500 to complete a ‘triple crown’ of successes in major races, alongside his prior victories in the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 67 comments on “McLaren IndyCar president Fernley leaving team after Alonso fails to qualify for Indy 500”

    1. What a yoke, a yoke!

        1. @coldfly nope, yoke is correct, not joke

          1. When you’re an ox ;)

            1. @Coldfly, I get it. You’re describing that fat fellow, what’s his name…Smith, Jones?? Got it, Brown!

            2. petes, that would be too much credit for that Brown guy.
              He’s not pulling the team forward with his yoke but more like pulling it further down.

            3. How much further down can it get @coldfly? Renaming to Fred Racing?

    2. Fernando Alonso still working his team magic. It is actually fairly bizarre how this always seems to happen, he’s clearly an intelligent, hard-working and mostly affable guy.

      1. This is not related to Alonso. The comedy of errors that doomed McLaren’s disastrous return to the Indianapolis 500 began months before Fernando Alonso failed to qualify for the race. How bad was it? Well, just a week before Alonso’s first test in the car, the team realized it didn’t even have a steering wheel. And Zack Brown had to dig around for steering wheels to track one down.
        McLaren purchased a spare car from technical partner Carlin, and though the car was orange when McLaren received it, it was not the proper McLaren “papaya orange.” It had to be repainted after the test, and that still had not been completed when Alonso crashed his McLaren-built car last Wednesday. The Carlin spare was in a paint shop 30 minutes from the track, more than a month after McLaren complained about the color, and it ultimately cost McLaren almost two full days of track time. By contrast James Hinchcliffe crashed his car during Saturday qualifying and his Schmidt Petersen team was able to get the backup car built up and ready to go out again in two and a half hours.
        But, the answer to the lack of performance was due to a BIG, HUGE and EMBARRASING mistake. McLaren actually had a 229 mph car but they installed a 227.5 mph top speed gearing. Alonso’s car was given gear ratios that explain his 227.35 mph four-lap average and why he was knocked from the field by 23-year-old Kyle Kaiser of tiny Juncos Racing.

        Is McLaren Indy500 team a bunch of idiots?

        1. Yikes, that’s a comedy of errors. Is the wrong gear ratio on both his cars?

    3. The Brown/Alonso blame game continues.

      1. The boss is always responsible

      2. I’m not sure whether you’ve seen it, but this seems to be solely down to Brown. Jenna Fryer’s AP News article on the whole debacle is illuminating and infuriating in equal measure.

        1. BlackJackFan
          21st May 2019, 4:16

          If it’s all down to Brown, why did Bob get the boot…? Or is that a stupid question…?

          1. Because Bob is an idiot, obviously.

            Brown:

            “We really did put it all on the line and you could feel the anxiety. There was some real heroism in that. I don’t want the world to think McLaren is a bunch of idiots because while we did have a few, we had some real stars.”

    4. Neil (@neilosjames)
      20th May 2019, 15:35

      Recall he did a rather good job at Force India, maybe he’d have been a better fit for a leadership role in the F1 team…

      1. He certainly did, and on a very small budget too.

        I’m sort of hoping he turns up again in F1. Love to see him take over the reins at Renault.

    5. Alonso’s primary car was built at McLaren’s tech center in Woking, England. His backup car was assembled at Carlin’s shop in Florida.
      I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t assemble both in Woking.

      1. Wouldn’t you build several chassis’ to get ready for the race? Just 1 seems optimistic to have only 1 car ready…

      2. A lot’s been made of that but it didn’t make any difference as both cars were brand new, Assembled the same way, Was of the same specification & running the same setup.
        Neither car had any pace & both suffered from the same problems in terms of the lack of a consistent balance because they simply completely missed with the setup, Were running the wrong suspension program & lacked the engineering/setup knowledge to sort it out.

        The best the car ran was when they brought the Damper program from Andretti & a setup from Penske & thats what Fernando ran on his final qualifying run. If they had more time to tune that he’d have undoubtedly made the race but with the new qualifying format for this year limiting them to 1 attempt in the bump hour they didn’t have time.

        In previous years it was Bump day rather than a bump hour so they could run from 11am-6pm & they had 3 qualifying attempts with the track been open for practice when no cars were in line to qualify so teams in trouble had more opportunity to figure things out.
        The new ‘Made for TV’ format that NBC pushed for (Even insisting the track was closed at 5:50pm rather than 6pm on Saturday so they had 10 minutes for analysis before going off air at 6) gave those in trouble no time to sort things out.

        1. I’m not pointing the finger at Carlin, or McLaren.
          Just pointing out that McLaren didn’t take the trouble to build the backup car. If I am concentrating on a single race such as Indy I would have built both cars at the same facility by the same people. You purchased 2 chassis, why not assemble them side by side. But that’s just me I guess. I’ve never had a backup car, but if I were in a position to have one, I guarantee it would be assembled and prepped right next to the primary.

          1. In the event, the ‘back up’ car was faster than the Woking assembled car.

            1. Which car was faster isn’t my point.

            2. BlackJackFan
              21st May 2019, 4:20

              Don’t worry dbH… many commenters here fail to get the point, and just change the subject, to voice their own thoughts…

        2. @gt-racer You can’t blame NBC for McLaren’s lack of running time. They did have a full day of qualifying to lock in their place—on Saturday, which ran to very nearly the traditional format.

          And McLaren would certainly have had more time to sort the car out if they hadn’t missed a full day of practice trying to figure out how to build the backup car. Compare that to Ganassi and Juncos building theirs overnight, and SPM getting Hinchcliffe back out in two hours within the same session, and it’s clear where McLaren lost their track time.

          1. @markzastrow I wasn’t trying to blame NBC; Just pointing out the changes to the format.

            Changes to the format which as I said a few days back I can’t say I liked. Saturday should be pole day & Sunday bump day with no designed around TV shootout’s for the fast 9 or last row. Drivers should not have unlimited attempts as they did Saturday & they should not be able to re-qualify without losing there qualified time.

            I just like the more traditional format that was in place until a few years ago & don’t like all of these changes pushed for by the TV networks (And ABC were guilty of it as well) the past few years to try & guarantee drama regardless of how fake some of it feels & how aspects of the changes devalue what made Indy qualifying so naturally dramatic & getting the pole as big an achievement or feel as special as it once did when you had to get it right the first time & not have a fast 9 shootout to give you another go at it.

        3. Jamski Rheaume
          20th May 2019, 18:50

          The 5:50 close wasn’t NBC’s decision. It’s the same rule as in 2018 when ABC was broadcasting qualifying and the race. That’s how SPM/Hinchcliffe missed out…they thought qualifying closed at 6 and got caught with their pants down.

        4. The 5:50pm finish happened last year on ABC as well so NBC pushing for the same thing isn’t a new request.

          Drivers should not have unlimited attempts as they did Saturday & they should not be able to re-qualify without losing there qualified time.

          …except they have the disadvantage of being in the longer lane 2 for qualifying if they wanted to keep their time – anyone in lane 1 has priority over anyone in lane 2 but had to drop their time. To me that seems like a good rule.

          Also, TV ratings are improving but still rubbish compared to the early 90s – anything that brings more non-enthusiast viewers and boosts ratings is surely worth trying.

        5. I am sure most of you have (by the time you read this) already seen this admission by Brown to AP news, but it gives a timeline of failure, glad to see them get that out so quickly, and openly; needed to happen, now they really need to sort priorities and make plans to do things properly, or not.

    6. Anybody any idea how much they spent on this project? car, staff, FA, etc.?

      1. That’s the question that really matters

    7. and of course Zak gets to stay, he’s going to run out of people to fire at some point

      1. I don’t mind Zak staying now, as long as he leave running the F1 team to Seidl.

    8. Alonso fails. Other people cop it.
      Doesn’t look logical from here…

      1. Have a look at the AP News article by Jenna Fryer (linked upthread in bosyber’s comment). Alonso was trying to qualify an oxcart out there. The whole thing was a complete rooster-up from the word go.

    9. Sonny Crockett
      20th May 2019, 16:33

      You have to say, pretty much everything Alonso touches turns into brown, smelly stuff…

      1. His WEC run looks fine to me…

        1. Against what opposition?

          1. The other Toyota, that always gets told to move over “‘cos the car behind is being driven by Fred”.

      2. His last Indy attempt was more than respectable. Big difference is the team this time around. Pretty fair to put the blame on the team here.

    10. the only people to fire from McLaren are two: Zack Brown and Fernando Alonso. Once they’ll be gone, this sad and inglorious chapter of McLaren history will be finally closed and they’ll be able to focus on climbing back to the top of the game in F1, and forget about this Triple crown BS.

    11. That’s a shame for Bob Fernley, but another example of McLaren hubris. I understand why they went it alone, but they were woefully unprepared. Why anyone cares that a Bahrain/Saudi owned team failed to qualify is beyond me; they have as much in common with McLaren’s 70’s Indy success as the Dany Bahar inspired Lotus KVRT. Humiliation isn’t too strong a description. Good for Danica for praising Juncos and Kyle Kaiser’s successful bump rather than bothering about McLaren (unlike the W series commentator complaining that someone (Visser) beat a British driver because she’d driven the track once before – what about Chadwick’s prior F3 experience & Brands Hatch later in the year?)

      1. …but they were woefully unprepared.

        That is the impression I got too. I guess there was a degree of arrogance as well. McLaren should have entered some of the races earlier in the season so they had some practice of what it was really like doing an Indycar race, but they didn’t.
        Even if Alonso had pipped Kaiser for last place on the grid, barring a miracle I don’t see how he’d have won the race, so basically this entire escapade for this year was a failure. If McLaren are serious about this Triple Crown then they will need to come back next year. If they are really serious about this then they should do it as part of a commitment to doing a full season.

    12. Do all sports car manufacturers follow the same playbook? Ferrari loves firing upon failure, and now we’ve got McLaren doing likewise.

      1. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
        20th May 2019, 20:43

        In an engineering heavy industry, the mix of businessmen, engineers and expectations often fail to align quite regularly. This isn’t really exclusive to sports car manufacturers/race teams, lots of other industries that have very specific goals, due dates, etc will often nix engineers, project leads, and even entire departments for failing to reach the company and board’s expectations.

    13. Which car was faster isn’t my point.

    14. I think Norris or Sainz should be worried. Never likes McLaren under Dennis but Zak makes a total joke of Mclaren

    15. F1’s own “Song of Ice and Fire” took off another head.

      Not surprising, in the last 20 years McLaren truly excelled only in firing people. And never looking for or finding the cause of issues.

      1. I saw a documentary on Amazon prime the first year Mclaren partnerd with Honda, the documentary should capture their revival but after 4 parts they stopped. You see them with Honda engineers and you see that they have the attitude as if they are still world champions. Not suprised at all

        1. A very good point… I’ve often wondered if that was the real reason the series ended… them running out of face.

          I wouldn’t put it past loser Zak Brown to proactively push a tv show to document their pending return to the top….

    16. Part of Fernley’s remit included assessing the potential for a long-term involvement in the series by McLaren.

      Mission accomplished. They have the potential to fight for a qualifying position and sometimes successfully qualify…

    17. Unfortunately, the ax of blame had to fall on someone and that someone was Bob. Will this sour McLaren’s desire to play in Indycars? Meanwhile, Bob should be joining the Haas team to work that Force India magic again.

      1. Will this sour McLaren’s desire to play in Indycars?

        That’s what I worry about. Zak Brown has his detractors, and I understand why, but I do buy into his vision of McLaren as a global race team that races in multiple series and not exclusively F1. It’s consistent with the history of the team and the sport. Unfortunately, it may be out of step with the times, today’s media environment, and the expectations the team have set for themselves.

        It would take years to build a successful IndyCar programme truly from scratch, and to even run mid-pack within the first couple of years—a la Haas—would be a fine accomplishment. But unfortunately, they’d probably get better PR by not trying in the first place and focusing on the recovering F1 team.

    18. Zak should understand that his job isn’t to please Alonso but to make Mclaren successful in F1.. Or he should leave

    19. Most other motor racing news sites report that Fernley’s contract with McLaren was only for this years Indianapolis 500. With the non qualification his contract with McLaren is finished.

      Lot of people jumping the gun in regards him being fired.

      1. If his contact lapsed then there doesn’t need to be any gardening leave.

        1. Correct, he can take up any employment contract with any team, or start his own, as from yesterday.

          1. BlackJackFan
            21st May 2019, 4:27

            Pr, perhaps from next Monday… ;-) Can’t do much gardening in a week. Perhaps pruning a few dead-heads… ;-)

            1. BlackJackFan
              21st May 2019, 4:28

              Should start: ‘Or…”

    20. Its really sad to see once a legendary team like Mclaren jumping thru hoops to please Alonso. Please stop with this Triple Crown BS and focus on what really matters: mclaren f1 team.

      1. McLaren started life as a F1 team, graduated to Canam and Indy cars (500 only). McLaren build up a technology supply business. Started a successful road car business.

        There is no going back to McLaren being solely a F1 team. Even running a mid pack F1 team has not hurt their McLaren automotive sales business.

        I doubt that within McLaren, the F1 team really matters that much to be all consuming.

        ” Last year, in 2018, McLaren reverted back monumental growth by selling 4,806 cars, up 43.9% compared to 2017. 2018 now becomes the ninth record year in a row for the McLaren brand, a year that was partially made possible by growth in Europe and China.North America still represents McLaren’s largest market and over one-third of global sales. Since McLaren has entered the North American market in 2011, the brand has sold over 5,000 vehicles total and achieved yet another record year of sales in 2018. European sales also saw a massive increase of 44.2% but the largest growth was seen in China at 122.5% following the introduction of the 570S Spider and 720S. China now represents nearly 7% of McLaren’s global sales volume. McLaren’s home market in the UK has also seen strong and steady year-on-year growth of 49.2%”

        https://carbuzz.com/news/mclaren-s-record-sales-year-should-have-ferrari-shaking

        Ferrari sell around 8000 cars per year. How much market share McLaren has taken from Ferrari is debateable but Ferrari sure could have done with the 4000 car sales lost to McLaren.

        I expect McLaren to run a full Indy car program next year to expand McLaren road car sales in the US. Possibly without Alonso.

        1. Mclaren is not taking any sales from Ferrari, Ferrari intentionally does not sell a lot of cars for its brand preservation.

          There’s a reason why Mclaren’s second hand values are in the toilet, try ordering a new Ferrari and see how long it takes to get to you!

    21. Now he will go back to F1 next year

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