Melbourne: Fernando Alonso's mysterious crash has put McLaren on the back foot before the Formula One season has even started in what threatens to be another tough year for the team.
Speculation over the accident during testing is increasing rather than abating as Alonso prepares to sit out this week's season-opener in Australia on medical advice. A report that Alonso, 33, thought it was 1995 and he was still in go-karting when he regained consciousness was dismissed as "nonsense" by his manager Flavio Briatore.
Fernando Alonso car crash earlier this year.
But Briatore said the circumstances of last month's crash in Barcelona, which concussed Alonso and gave him at least temporary memory loss, were "very strange".
"I saw footage, which Bernie Ecclestone sent me, where we see that the impact is not so hard," Briatore told Sky Italia. "(Ferrari's Sebastian) Vettel is behind, he passes, and you see Fernando crashes without any apparent reason. "We have to see if there is a steering problem. We have not had any information on that from McLaren." Questions over the incident will be prominent in Melbourne this week as McLaren fight the fall-out and hope their misfiring cars can reach the chequered flag.
The celebrated British team has already denied that Alonso suffered an electric shock in the cockpit, and Briatore said tests had not indicated any existing health problems. "If Fernando had had a problem, a heart problem, a small stroke, a blood clot; it can happen even to a great sportsman," said the Italian. "And we have seen that absolutely all the examinations and tests made on the driver were negative."
- 'Pain, lots of pain' -
The controversy has raised the pressure on a team that limped through testing, with the MP4-30 clocking only 30 laps during the final session -- the least of any team. McLaren have renewed their association with Japanese engine supplier Honda, a partnership which conquered F1 from 1988 to 1991 with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at the wheel. But the mechanical problems which curtailed their testing look set to keep McLaren uncompetitive for at least the early part of the season.
Alonso is also a returning partner after a tempestuous spell in 2007 when he fell out with the team and was embroiled in the "Spygate" scandal before terminating his contract early. The early stages of their reunion have not been promising, although Alonso tried to make light of the crash when he launched a #wheredidyouwakeuptoday thread on Twitter. Alonso is in training for the second race in Malaysia, when he is expected to reclaim his seat from stand-in Kevin Magnussen and begin his partnership with Jenson Button.
But regardless of his crash, it could be a long season for an outfit which will start with an uncompetitive car, a high-profile new driver and a rebuilding relationship with Honda. "There is going to be pain, lots of pain," 1996 world champion Damon Hill told the Daily Mail.
"The McLaren-Honda thing has to work at some point, but Formula One is so difficult now. There is so much technology and you are taking on so many strong teams. "I expect a modest beginning, but from whatever they start at you want to see a trajectory which is pushing to regular top sixes and a podium at the end of the season."