No one saw this move by Fernando Alonso coming. Much like one of his overtakes in F1, the McLaren star did something that left the motorsport world almost speechless and asking: did he just do that?
The double F1 World champion will compete at the 101st Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport. With backing and the blessing of Honda and McLaren he will skip the 2017 F1 Monaco Grand Prix to try and win race 2 of the legendary, almost mythical, motorsport ‘triple crown’.
Alonso heads for the month of May and a a steep learning curve
Like a lot of the Spaniard’s career decisions this seems to owe more to passion than logic. Alonso has never run on an oval, let alone a super speedway. Preparation time will be limited now that the ‘month of May’ is a shadow of itself. Alonso will be up against very talented drivers, many of which are both fast and experienced at the Brickyard. Plus most of them have never won the Indy 500 despite multiple attempts. But is that unfair to the McLaren driver?
I would not blame IndyCar or US motorsport fans with little interest in F1 if they felt the move was a touch arrogant. But that is to misunderstand Alonso: he is coming to Indy because he respects it. And perhaps most interestingly, it confirms that he now views the Indy 500 – as part of the ‘triple crown’ – and not more F1 wins/titles as his best route to legendary status.
Creating a motorsport legacy
Alonso has vocalised for a long time – especially during his second stint at McLaren – his desire to be considered one of the best racing drivers of all time. Not necessarily the best F1 driver but the best driver. The triple crown is the ultimate embodiment of that for Alonso and what he wants his motor racing legacy to be.
The F1 rules were rewritten by Michael Schumacher when he secured the last of his seven F1 World championships. Perspectives on the achievements of all drivers were irrevocably skewed. The reality of Alonso’s speed, skill, intelligence and bravery is going to be lost to some extent. And that must hurt.
With the McLaren Honda project still perhaps years from title ambitions, Alonso needed to do something. Especially when you consider the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastien Vettel and Max Verstappen could get close to matching Schumacher’s record. Or even beat it.
The triple crown or more F1 titles?
Were Alonso to complete the triple crown (or even just come close to it) it would, for me, secure his status as a racing legend. Even if there were no more F1 wins or titles. Even if Hamilton, Vettel and/or Verstappen racked up five, six or seven F1 World titles. For me, Alonso’s attempt(s) to win the Indy 500 will count for more than Schumacher’s 7 World titles.
Motorsport fans – those who respect the history and tradition of the Indy 500 and Le Mans – will perhaps agree with me. In a time when drivers are predominantly specialists, that old discussion at the bar or in the school yard over who is ‘the best’ has become somewhat redundant. A driver who can win in F1 at Monaco, in IndyCar at the 500 and endurance racing at Le Mans demonstrates versatility that is all but gone in modern motor racing. It has been decades since the likes of Clark, Hill, Andretti and Mansell tried for the triple crown. Perhaps as a result of the drought it feels inevitable that a sort of cult status now awaits Alonso.
What does Alonso’s decision say about the Indy 500?
As a long term IndyCar fan I have long suspected the following: the standing and reputation of the 500 in not just world motorsport but sport in general has diminished. Many like me still consider it the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing’ but accepted to that the esteem in which is it held had lessened.
Alonso’s decision shows that I was wrong; the allure of the 500 remains intact. Even at a time when it seems like there is little interest outside North America in the 500, it can still dominate headlines both in print and online. One decision has proven that the Indianapolis 500 remains a jewel in the crown of world motor sport. And that is fantastic news.
The history books will not fully represent the brilliance of Fernando Alonso in F1. But his attempt to win the Indy 500 – on the way to a possible triple crown – will guarantee his position amongst the greats.