Fernando Alonso's participation in the Indy 500 is "very important" for McLaren's partnership with Formula One engine supplier Honda, according to the team's executive director Zak Brown.
Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix later this month to drive at the Indy 500 in an Andretti Autosport car running under the McLaren-Honda name. The opportunity was partly born out of the F1 team's dire start to the season, which has seen Alonso become increasingly frustrated with the performance and reliability of his car's Honda's power unit.
So bad was the situation at the start of the year that McLaren explored the possibility of a switch to Mercedes power, but in recent weeks has reiterated its commitment to Honda. Brown believes the positive news stories that are being generated by Alonso's appearance in a Honda-powered car at Indianapolis are helping to ease the tension between chassis and engine manufacturers.
"It is very important," he said. "Obviously we are having a very challenging time on track [in F1], which leads to a lot of questions about the partnership [between McLaren and Honda]. The partnership is going to be getting stronger and we felt this was a good way to demonstrate that McLaren, Honda and Alonso are one group and we are committed to each other and committed to winning, and it's great that Honda has such a competitive platform in IndyCar.
"It helps show that we are united, but of course we are frustrated, as is Honda, with how things are going. It's not going to be a quick fix and we are not going to expect much progress in Spain and Monaco or until the middle of the year, so it was important to tell the world we are all committed to each other because we were getting a lot of questions about that."
Alonso's first test in an IndyCar on Wednesday attracted a global audience of two million across its online streams and Brown believes the event will continue to capture the imagination of the public.
"I'm not surprised at the exposure that it's created and I'm very pleased with how quickly and seamlessly, so far, the collaboration between McLaren-Honda, IndyCar and Andretti has gone given how short the period of time we have all had to get prepared. So far everything has gone incredibly smoothly, including the weather at the test.
"I think this is credit to the three organisations, just how seamless everything has gone, and it feels like we have had a year of preparation when in reality we have had four weeks of preparation. I think what IndyCar did with the test was awesome and it is the power of digital and social media. I think other racing series can learn from what IndyCar just did there -- the level of fan engagement was off the chart. So I think the test and how much exposure that got was a pleasant surprise."