Fernando Alonso’s rivals were surprised on Thursday when it emerged the Spaniard had been sidelined in Bahrain for medical reasons.
“I said ‘Wow’,” admitted fellow F1 veteran Jenson Button.
Alonso’s countryman and friend Carlos Sainz added: “I knew he was not 100 per cent, but I did not expect that he would not race. I think it was a surprise for everyone.”
Esteban Gutierrez, who was involved in Alonso’s high-speed crash in Melbourne, agreed: “I was with him after the accident and happy that everything with his health was ok.
“Then I heard on Monday that he was not 100pc but I’m sure he will recover soon.”
However, just as there was scepticism amid Alonso’s mysterious winter testing crash early last year, that same sort of speculation is now doing the rounds again.
Gary Hartstein, the former F1 doctor, said on Twitter that “rib fractures do not require CT scans to diagnose”.
And while Spain’s AS newspaper said the condition and Alonso’s Melbourne crash are not related, the McLaren driver reportedly suffers from something called ‘Poland syndrome’ as he has underdeveloped chest muscles on one side.
There is also the lingering story about Alonso’s official merchandise being still unavailable on the McLaren website.
Alonso, however, is hoping to be fit by China in two weeks, but until then will be replaced by team reserve and reigning GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne.
However, the Belgian was in Japan for a Super Formula test when he got the urgent call-up from boss Eric Boullier on Thursday.
“I hope he gets some sleep on the plane!” said his new teammate Button.
“But he’s an experienced driver, he’s been here (in Bahrain) several times and won in GP2 last year,” the Briton added, “and he also knows the car from the simulator and the way we work as a team.”
24-year-old rookie Vandoorne’s McLaren predecessor, Kevin Magnussen, also backed the Belgian to get up to speed quickly.
“I think he will be on Jenson’s level straight away,” said the Dane. “The McLaren simulator is great and it was good enough for me in my first race so I don’t think it’s a problem for him.
“He is definitely ready but it will be a little annoying for him to know that after one or two races he will have to get out of the car again, so he will need to do everything possible in this opportunity,” Magnussen added.