PROTECTION SQUAD: Medical staff hold sheets around Fernando Alonso as he's taken to a helicopter outside the Catalunya medical centre after crashing into the track wall on February 22 2015. Image: AP / Manu Fernandez
BARCELONA, Spain - McLaren's statement to the news media has not halted rampant speculation about the Catalunya track crash that put Fernando Alonso in hospital for four days... and counting.
Many insiders are blaming the UK-based team not only for waiting 28 hours to explain the bizarre crash into the track wall but then insisting it was entirely "normal".
Drivers are rarely knocked unconscious and helicoptered to hospital and when they reportedly then pass every medical test, they are not normally kept in hospital for several days. It is also not normal for a team's detailed account of a crash to be so widely contradicted by other evidence.
'SPEED WAS SLOW'
For instance, trackside photographer Jordi Vidal has released an image that contradicts McLaren's claim that Alonso ran on to the Astroturf on the outside of Turn 3 before losing control in a gust of wind. Vidal also contradicted McLaren's claims that it was particularly windy at the time.
He did, however, agree with Sebastian Vettel that the Spaniard was not driving at full speed.
Vettel, who was following the Alonso when he crashed, recalled: "The speed was slow, maybe 150km/h. Then he turned right into the wall. It looked strange. It did not look like a (normal) accident."
La Gazzetta dello Sport quoted an F1 engineer as saying: "With the downforce in F1 McLaren's explanation is plausible if he (Alonso) was pushing hard, as (Carlos) Sainz was but not with the speed Alonso was doing, as the photo taken just before shows that he was in the middle of the track."
'MUFFLED GROANS' FROM CAR
Flavio Briatore, who has been close to Alonso throughout his career, told the Italian news media this week that the 33-year-old remembered nothing of the crash, and Alonso's friend Pedro de la Rosa steadfastly refused to comment on Tuesday after visiting him in hospital.
Manager Luis Garcia Abad, meanwhile, told Spanish reporters that Alonso was instantly knocked-out by the impact but La Gazzetta dello Sport quoted a McLaren mechanic as suggesting Alonso was not immediately unconscious. "They (engineers) called Fernando but only strange and muffled groans came over the radio and then after a final moan there was silence," the mechanic reportedly said.
Former McLaren driver Martin Brundle also furrowed his brow at the McLaren explanation. It was unusual, he said,for a driver to have apparently downshifted after losing control. He said on Twitter: "Still seems strange such a relatively mild incident in F1 terms put him in hospital."
The tangled tale has moved former F1 driver Ivan Capelli to call for more information to be released. "Something strange happened," he said, "but in Formula 1 there is often silence. An answer has to be given to what happened, if only so that drivers can be relaxed before the start of the new season."
'THERE MUST BE VIDEO'
Michael Schmidt, a highly respected German correspondent with Auto Motor und Sport, wondered why McLaren had not released footage from Alonso's on-board camera. Not only that, but the Catalunya circuit has dozens of CCTV cameras "covering every inch of the track".
"There must be video of the accident", Schmidt insisted. "If there is, why is it being withheld?"
Writing on his blog f1-insider.com, Sport Bild journalist Ralf Bach claimed: "International Automobile Federation officials were behaving very strangely on Sunday evening - and the federation is not even responsible for testing."
Not everybody believes the conspiracy stories, however. Livio Oricchio, a veteran journalist, doubted that McLaren-Honda or the federation would cover-up Alonso's electrocution by a faulty ERS system.
"Imagine the damage to F1 if another driver suffered a similar incident and the federation had been aware of what happened to Alonso," the Globo correspondent wrote.
Spain's AS newspaper said Alonso could be discharged from hospital on Wednesday, the day before the final pre-season test action begins.
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