McLaren on Larson F1 test talks and Verstappen comparisons


McLaren CEO Zak Brown would like to see Kyle Larson undergo a test in a Formula 1 car, as the NASCAR champion prepares to make his Indianapolis 500 debut on Sunday.

Larson's NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, partnered with McLaren for the Indy 500 – where Larson has already impressed by qualifying fifth in his debut, drawing praise from people like Alexander Rossi, who puts Larson on par with Max Verstappen as one of the best the difference. Drivers in the world.

Brown was speaking to a range of select media including The Race ahead of Sunday's 500, as rain threatens to complicate race plans.

Here's the latest on Larson's qualifying performance to tell the story of how good he is, whether he should be ranked as one of the best drivers in the world, how rain could rob him of his race debut and McLaren and Hendrick's plans for dealing with a rain delay.

Antecedents

Larson won't be the first Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR driver to test a Formula 1 car, as Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson swapped rides in Abu Dhabi in 2018, which ultimately put Johnson on the path to switching to IndyCar full-time.

However, that was at the end of his competitive career, while Larson was in his prime as a regular NASCAR winner and short-oval dominator on dirt tracks.

“I would love to see him drive around in a Formula 1 car,” Zac Brown said.

“I already talked to Kyle about it. I guess you expect me to do that. I didn't have to do that to get him to drive for us at Indy.

“But he's a great talent. I think he'll do well.”

“But obviously he's a Nascar driver, he always has been, he always will be – and you have to be realistic about the growth path you need to have to become a Formula 1 driver.

“But in terms of giving him the opportunity to get in a Formula 1 car to see, that's rewarding and fun for him, and I think that's also good for our brand — and I think the NASCAR fans will think that's great and rewarding.” I think Formula 1 fans will think it will be great.

“So I would be very comfortable doing that at the right time.”

Rick Hendrick would have to give his permission, but Brown doesn't think that would be a problem.

“I think Rick is a suitable rider,” he added. “I think he might enjoy it, not only giving permission, but I think I can see Rick saying, ‘I want to go.'”

Speaking on The Race IndyCar Podcast, Jeff Gordon, who drove a Formula 1 car and impressed for Williams in a swap with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2003, and is now part of Hendrick's management and ownership structure, said: “I know Kyle, if he gets that opportunity Not only will you excel, but he will of course enjoy it. We would love to see the relationship turn into some sort of opportunity like this if it presented itself.

The biggest challenge will be finding a free spot for the 36 NASCAR races and Larson's tendency to do several short oval races a week throughout the year.

You have to believe he would want to clear his schedule for the chance to test a Formula 1 car.

Larson discussion

Kyle Larson, World of Outlaws

Larson is widely considered one of the best drivers in the world by fans in North America who have watched Larson win NASCAR races and championships, as well as the biggest short oval dirt races on the calendar – and now qualify fifth in his IndyCar debut. .

They see it as a throwback to the legendary names of American racing such as Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt – who raced and succeeded in many different formats, with many surfaces and styles.

Due to the decline in popularity of NASCAR and short oval racing outside of North America, it has created a huge void between North American fans who believe Larson is the best driver in the world, and some outside of the continent who are not quite sure who or what he is. Races in.

Granted, Larson's career has been mostly on oval cars, but some of the oval races mentioned have come in 900-horsepower midget cars on dirt, which is a different challenge for NASCAR — where he was also strong on road courses like Watkins Glen.

Kyle Larson, Hendrick, Nascar

The disparity in his rating is clearly causing friction among fanbases, not least as far back as earlier this week when Alexander Rossi told the Associated Press that he felt Larsson and F1 champion Verstappen were “on the same level.”

“I don't think anyone should be upset about that,” Brown said.

“Because for me, the difference between NASCAR and Formula 1 is baseball and football.

“Do I think Kyle is as good as you get as a talented race driver in NASCAR and he showed me what he can do in IndyCar? 100%. He's as good as you can get.

“Max is as good as you can get in his discipline.

“I don't think you can compare them other than to say, 'This is the best football player in the world, this is the best baseball player in the world, and this is one of the best basketball players in the world.'

“So in that sense, yes, Kyle is one of the best racing drivers in the world. Do I think he can jump in a Red Bull and win the Formula 1 World Championship? No.

“Do I think Max Verstappen can jump into Hendrick NASCAR and win the NASCAR championship? Probably not.”

McLaren team principal Gavin Ward said earlier this week that Larsson was one of the best drivers he had worked with, and as an aerodynamicist, control systems engineer and race engineer at Red Bull, the list of drivers he has worked with includes Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Mark Webber and Sebastian. Vettel (the latter two pictured below with Ward on the podium in Abu Dhabi in 2013).

Gavin Ward, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, F1

“He continues to impress,” Chris Stafford, who spent nearly a decade with the Williams Formula 1 team and Larson’s McLaren crew chief for the Indy 500, told The Race.

“You say the European background is not aware of what he has achieved. But from our side, everything he jumps into, tends to win in it or is very competitive, whether it's dirt cars, whether it's Nascar cars – it turns out IndyCar [too],P5 qualification.

“I think that's why he's so popular, and he ranks as one of the best drivers on the planet at the moment.

“Sunday he was driving a NASCAR car, then Monday he was driving a dirt car, then Tuesday he was driving an IndyCar.

Kyle Larson, McLaren, IndyCar

“How he was able to change his mindset from completely different driving styles for each one of those cars, I think [it] It amazes pretty much everyone in all of the pastures.”

Stafford added that Larson was “completely up there” with McLaren's current IndyCar drivers – all of whom have driven Formula 1 cars at some point in their careers.

Larsson's excellent application and work ethic might have been expected given his diverse resume, but he was so calm that he could be mistaken for horizontal during this experience. He is very relaxed and laser focused despite the complexity of this event. He is a consummate professional who amazes everyone with his style.

He looks like a transcendent motorsport star.

What happens if it rains?

Kyle Larson, McLaren, IndyCar

As of Thursday, there was an 85% chance of rain at the green flag for the Indy 500. The 500 cannot be raced in the rain, and Larson has a very small window to race the Indy 500 and then travel to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. Compete on the same day.

If rain comes, a decision will have to be made on whether Larson will start the 500, continue if there is a delay, or head to Charlotte instead.

Leading up to the event, the party line has always been that NASCAR is the priority. Larson leads the championship, and if you miss a race in NASCAR, you must apply for a special exemption in order to be included in NASCAR's qualifying system – even if you qualify for it by points/wins – to fight for the title at the end of the race. year.

However, there were reasons to wonder whether priorities had changed in recent days and weeks.

Kyle Larson, McLaren, IndyCar

Both Hendrick and Brown said any decision on what Larson will do will be made at the last possible moment because the weather will undoubtedly be a moving target.

Speaking on Friday, Brown said the decision on what would happen at the event if there was a rain delay was up to Hendrick.

Brown joked that they would lock Hendrik in a room and wait for white smoke to appear from the ceiling—just as a new pope is chosen—to get his decision on what to do.

He added: I know him [Hendrick] He doesn't want to pull it [Larson, out of the race]”But of course the Cup Series championship is very important and Hendrick doesn't want to risk drawing the wrath of NASCAR.

Predictions of higher precipitation have come up before, such as in 2019 when nothing reached the track and the race went off without a hitch – so this may not be a story.

The other interesting element is that only one driver will be eligible to take over for Larson — Nolan Siegel, who crashed out last weekend in qualifying.

As a rookie who failed to race, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a backup plan that McLaren wouldn't bother with, but you'd be dead wrong.

Nolan Siegel, Dale Coyne, IndyCar

Siegel drives for the Indy NXT Championship and coincidentally races for Brown's United Autosports team.

Brown says he hasn't talked to Siegel yet but admits there's a plan in place, and to add, Siegel is the only potential driver who could do it.

“My United teammates say he is an unbelievable talent,” Brown added.

“And I think that's the same conclusion [Tony] Canaan and Gavin [Ward] It has as well.

“Personally, I haven't seen him drive the car, but I appreciate – in fact, the first people who told me about Lando [Norris] My partners at United were Richard Dean, who's been around racing for thousands of years, and a guy called Alan Gow, who runs British Touring Cars [which had Norris star on its support ticket in Ginetta Juniors].

“So when he told me this guy was special, I believed him. He said Nolan was special. The guys here feel the same way.”

Tony Kanaan – McLaren's sporting director as of last year – would be the obvious replacement but he has not completed the veterans renewal test to make himself eligible, although he raced in the 500 last year with McLaren and won the race in 2013.



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