The news that Fernando Alonso will skip the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix next month and instead contest the equally prestigious IndyCar 500 Live sent shockwaves around the Formula One world.
Seldom in this age do high-profile motorsport athletes, particularly those in Formula One, hop across various categories.
Current Renault F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg’s one-off foray into the World Endurance Championship, in 2015, saw the German on his sportscar racing debut achieve ultimate glory at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.
IndyCar 500 Live Hulkenberg in Formula One is yet to even appear on the podium, despite being one of the more experienced names on the grid, but winning at Le Mans while contesting a full-time season in his regular sport was something of great envy.
The German acted also as a conduit between both categories of racing, where the interest in the single driver had attracted viewers of one series to the other.
As did the one-off Formula One appearance in 2014 for World Endurance Champion and three-time Le Mans winner André Lotterer, albeit for perennial backmarkers Caterham at the Belgian Grand Prix.
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Alonso’s decision to race at the Indy 500, while received negatively by some – including Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner, who labelled McLaren as “barking mad,” for being the architects of the collaboration – has mainly had a positive reception.
The only detractor is that Alonso will be missing a grand prix, which has been described as being a kick in the face for Formula One.
Looking at the bigger picture however, it seems the right thing to do when considering the aforementioned sentiments regarding drawing viewership across categories.
Someone of Alonso’s stature and current predicament in Formula One can be excused. McLaren too, as a racing team, gets to return to its halcyon years under the new leadership of Zak Brown – who intends to take the famous marque into sportscar racing, as well as IndyCar, full-time in the future.
But from a competitive perspective, it’s been an age since the notion of challenging motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’ – winning the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix – has been raised.
Only one driver has achieved the feat, two-time Formula One champion Graham Hill. The Briton won an incredible five races at Monaco, as well as clinching the Indy 500 in 1966, and Le Mans in 1972.
A handful of drivers have won two of the three races, including one of Alonso’s former Formula One rivals in Juan-Pablo Montoya – who triumphed at Monaco in 2003 for Williams and is a twice winner at the Indy 500.
Lengthy seasons and calendar clashes in Formula One are strong deterrents against any cross-competing, however correlation in conjunction with the sport’s governing body in the FIA (who also govern the World Endurance Championship) could see future clashes between Triple Crown events avoided.
Now that the antiquated previous commercial rights holder of Formula One has been deposed, their replacements, Liberty Media, seem savvier to the idea of Formula One being promoted through other global motorsport platforms.
It would be something at which to truly marvel if more drivers emulated Jim Clark, who won the Formula One title in 1965, as well as attaining success at the Indy 500 that same year.
Fernando Alonso is making the correct decision by skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to run the Indianapolis 500—and it’s not even close to being the wrong one.
Why? Well, first off, to say this season for McLaren in Formula 1 has been an embarrassing disappointment would be a huge understatement. Both of their cars (one driven by Alonso and the other by rookie Stoffel Vandoorne) have finished only one race combined this season which has consisted of Australia, China and this past weekend in Bahrain: one finish and zero points earned for the team.
This year in F1, McLaren can be compared to BK Racing in Indianapolis 500Live. We know they won’t be competing for wins, moreover top 20 finishes, and they’re just in the way. But instead of Gray Gaulding driving for BK Racing, imagine someone like Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch.
That’s the position McLaren is in, as they have a two-time world champion in Alonso piloting a car that seemingly can’t hold itself together for two hours. So why shouldn’t a championship-caliber driver who has a small chance of even finishing in the points in Monaco not switch it up?
And it’s not like the car he’ll be driving in the Indianapolis 500 will be the equivalent to McLaren in IndyCar. Alonso will be driving for Andretti Autosport, one of the top teams in IndyCar. Alonso will be able to learn quickly from some of the best in the sport in Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and last year’s Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi.
I know what you’re thinking, though: he has zero starts in IndyCar and limited time to become oriented with the intricacies of a different race car in a different series in a different country at a different type of race track.
Plus, at the end of the day, his goal is simple: the triple crown. Monaco, Indy and Le Mans. Only Graham Hill has completed the lofty goal of winning those three prestigious races. So who’s to blame Alonso for trying to live out his dream and check box No. 2 off his list?
Was there uproar when Kurt Busch attempted (and succeeded) with the Indy 500/Coke 600 double in 2015? What about when Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon attempted (and succeeded) the same feats in the early 2000s? Spoiler alert: there wasn’t. In fact, it was applauded and encouraged.
Heck, Kyle Larson has been rumored to be considering the double as well. Chip Ganassi said it won’t happen this year, but it’ll most likely happen down the road. And I know Juan Pablo Montoya’s situation was unique, because he competed full-time in both Formula 1 andIndyCar. But the premise is the same: drivers from other series should be welcome to compete in other racing series.
In fact, they should be encouraged. Especially when they’re big time names like Alonso. He has over 3 million Twitter followers. No disrespect to Sergio Perez or Lance Stroll, but they wouldn’t make headlines if they decided to skip Monaco for Indy. Alonso did.
Bottom line: Alonso has no chance winning Monaco. He has a chance to win Indy.
Who cares about the previous drivers that have tried their hand at another form of racing and failed. Who cares about the doubters telling Alonso he can’t do it, he won’t be competitive and he’s wasting his time. Who cares about people saying he can’t do it. I think he can—and he will.
And to any motorsports fan (or sports fan, for that matter), his competitive spirit should be celebrated, not criticized. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
– Davey Segal
I get that Fernando Alonso is checking a huge item off of his bucket list—I’d like to run the Indy 500 one day too—but he is making a huge mistake by doing so.
Alonso is a long shot to win it, but he will be missing out on a chance to win Formula One’s biggest race, the Monaco Grand Prix. He is a two-time winner of the event and finished in the top-five last year. Anything is possible, something could happen to the race favorites and his car could end up in victory lane.
Instead, Alonso will spend the day struggling not to get run over by the rest of the field in the Indy 500. Sure, he will have a car that can win the event and there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest drivers ever, but at 35 years old, Alonso is no spring chicken, and he will have a hard time adapting to the sometimes-three-wide pack racing seen at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Formula One cars never race as closely as the cars do at IMS, and they certainly do not pass each other as much. The other 32 drivers in the field will likely have spent their entire lives preparing for this type of racing, instead of jumping in at age 35.
Switching to another type of motorsport just does not work like it used to. Back in the day, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt switched to 2017 IndyCar 500 Live with ease, with each winning the Daytona 500, while NASCAR driver Donnie Allison came close to winning a few Indy 500s.
The thing is that back then, the cars and the styles of racing were knitted closer together, so a spectacular driver could swap steering wheels and find success. But now, NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One are extremely different. The drivers for each form of racing start driving right after they learn to walk nowadays. This is makes it nearly impossible for someone, despite their accomplishments in one form of racing, to find the same success in another.
There are exceptions, such as Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch, but think about all of the drivers in the past 20 or so years that failed to make the transition and greatly hurt their legacy in doing so.
Essentially, it is about like when Michael Jordan retired from basketball to go play baseball. He went from winning basketball championships to striking out all of the time in minor league baseball.
Sam Hornish Jr. was a three-time Indycar champion and won the 2006 Indy 500, but failed miserably in NASCAR. He went from being an elite Indycar driver to never scoring higher than 26th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ final standings.
Hornish drove for Team Penske during the time that Brad Keselowski won the Cup championship, and he never found his way into victory lane for a Cup race. Imagine how much more success Hornish could have had if he had kept driving for Penske in the Indycar series.
Dario Franchitti was a four-time Indycar champion and three-time Indy 500 winner. Franchitti won the Indycar title every year from 2007 to 2011, with the exception of 2008, because that was the year he tried his hand at NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing. The Indycar legend never finished higher than 22nd place in the 10 MENCS races he actually qualified for. He could have potentially won five straight Indycar titles had he stayed put.
Lewis Hamilton said that he would like to drive in a NASCAR race one day, but he would be a fool to do so. He has little experience is stock cars or ovals and would be competition against people who have done it their whole lives.
Not to mention, NASCAR is the least inviting of all motorsports, especially with the new charter rule and the four-team restrictions. Unless an elite team like Hendrick Motorsports tells Hamilton that he will sit Jimmie Johnson one week so that Hamilton can drive the No. 48, then there is no good situation for Hamilton to jump into.
The only elite teams that could put a third car out there for Hamilton would be Penske or Ganassi, and I have already mentioned how both of those owners failed with an open wheeler in the driver’s seat. It would severely hurt Hamilton’s image to see him parading around in 38th place in the No. 55 that Derrick Cope usually drives.
It is exciting to see Alonso on the Indy 500 entry list, but it will be overhyped and he will be lucky if he doesn’t kill someone, given his inexperience to the close-quartered, high speed racing at Indianapolis.