Former F1 driver Jean Alesi has admitted that it's possible he will abandon his attempt to make the start of the 2012 Indy 500 race after all, over concerns that his car is simply too slow to be safe on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After Wednesday's practice session, which saw his Lotus Fan Force United car top out at 205.389mph, 10mph slower than the next-slowest car out on track during the six-hour session, Alesi admitted that "I feel very unsafe, being quite slow in the middle of the track."
He added: "I am quite concerned for my fellow drivers, if we are not able to get the speed that we need. I am flat out and I have reached 205 as the maximum that I can see."
In a subsequent interview with Radio Canada, he expanded upon these initial comments.
"Unfortunately, this engine does not allow us to be competitive at all," he said. "We are even in dangerous situations because, with such speed differences, I'm a danger on the track for other drivers. This is a problem. We need everyone to realize that you can not go on like this."
Asked if this meant that he was considering pulling out of the Indy 500 in advance of the qualifying weekend, Alesi admitted: "It is not impossible. The equipment is just too slow, I think especially the engine," he said.
"Let's see if something better happens by qualifications," he added. "Otherwise we stop. I have hope but the reality of things right now is that it will not."
If Alesi did decide to walk away, then such a public repudiation of their product by their own 'brand ambassador' would be a crushing blow for Lotus. The manufacturer has already had to agree to release two of the four teams it had signed up to supply engines to in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, and is now being sued by a third for breach of contract.
That leaves Lotus supplying only one engine to the series on a full time basis, and HVM Racing's Simona de Silvestro is also deeply unhappy with her car's performance in IMS this week.
"We're just really struggling on the engine side," the Swiss driver said on Wednesday. "When you do only 200 mph, you don't have enough downforce, which makes it a little bit trickier."
Alesi and de Silvestro's pace seemed to pick up earlier in the week, but it transpired that this was almost wholly the result of the two drivers being allowed to temporarily try out an additional turbo boost that will only be available to the other teams on the track over the forthcoming qualification weekend, starting with tomorrow's 'Fast Friday' practice session.
The Indy 500 itself is on May 27 starting at noon local time.