Should IndyCar invest in Alonso?

Before Alonso-mania took over Indianapolis this week, attention was focused on what Fernando Alonso does next year. His McLaren contract is up this season and his ambitions remaining completely unfulfilled by the team.

Unsurprisingly there is once again rumour in the F1 paddock of a move to Mercedes. There is talk of Ferrari too and nostalgic glances towards a Renault team that may or may not be improving.

Alonso – I want a car good enough to win races and championships

Alonso’s has long talked about wanting a car good enough to win races and championships in F1. Recently the context of that statement has changed. There is less direct reference to F1 regarding the illusive wins and championships.

Fernando Alonso Indy 500 announcement
The double World Champion now views opportunities like the Indy 500 and the triple crown as a better way to guarantee legendary status. With this change of perspective and a thus far pretty smooth start in IndyCar, is a full-time assault on the championship in 2018 that unrealistic? I suspect not and with every day of competitive running that Alonso gets under his belt at Indy – and each uncompetitive race with McLaren for the rest of this season – the chances further reduce.

IndyCar is racing for racers

Alonso has not hidden his admiration of the raw nature of IndyCar. He’s referred to it as being proper racing and racing for racers multiple times. The lack of advanced technology, the level playing field (by F1 standards at least) and the ability of the driver to make a real difference appeals to him massively.

All sounds great so far. What’s the catch I hear you ask? Well to put it bluntly, no team on the grid could afford Alonso.

$40 million worth of racing talent

Several teams may well want him and rightly would see big dollar signs above the diminutive Spaniard. Just as Carl Haas and Paul Newman did when the lured Nigel Mansell from F1 to IndyCar in 1993.

Fernando Alonso IndyCar Indy 500 helmet
But without some big backing from a new sponsor or Honda perhaps, every IndyCar team simply cannot afford Alonso’s reputed $40 million per season.
So here’s the question: does IndyCar step in to help?

A different form of investment

The idea of the championship organiser helping a team get a top driver is completely at odds with not just motor sport traditions but American sporting tradition. The NFL would not help any single team bring in a big name they could not afford. Ditto baseball and the NBA. There would be pit lane brawls if for example, Hendrick Motorsports managed to lure Lewis Hamilton to NASCAR with financial support from the series.

But the situation is different for IndyCar. Any support from the series would and should be viewed as an investment. It is not favouring a team over another. It is boosting a series that needs all the coverage it can muster. The 2m viewers of Alonso’s debut run at IMS offers a tantalising glimpse of what might be.

Alonso-mania hits Pensylvania

Imagine that impact across a full season. Alonso mania hits St Petersburg, Texas, Watkins Glen, Pocono and Sonoma. F1 fans from Europe tune in to see how their best driver handles the challenge of racing in America. Merchandise sales go through the roof. Talk shows galore are desperate to understand why Alonso might ditch the bright lights and glitz of F1 for a series still, in relative terms, in the doldrums.

Fernando Alonso IndyCar Indy fans
Attendances at races get a huge boost because fans can now watch and meet a star driver usually inaccessible due to the elitist VIP bubble that is F1. Plus if he does well he will naturally gather support. To paraphrase Chip Ganassi, we all like winners. If he does poorly it will look brilliant for IndyCar. And if Alonso is in the mix but not dominant then everyone wins.

Investing in the future of IndyCar

IndyCar invests on behalf of the teams in securing races and broadcast coverage. Similarly the series invests in marketing and promotion to raise the profile of the championship overall. Surely supporting a big money move to get Alonso in to IndyCar full-time would fall in to the same category?

The hurdles would be massive of course. Getting some agreement amongst the teams would be an epic challenge in itself. Encouraging all parties to see the bigger picture – exposure and coverage the series currently cannot buy – would be exceptionally tricky.
Even though all teams will benefit from more exposure and interest in IndyCar they are in racing because they want to win. They are utterly selfish by definition. And that would probably prevent the series giving itself the biggest marketing boost since 1993.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting article. From the perspective of an Alonso fan after several years of pain in F1, IMHO: @IndyCar should invest in @alo_oficial = NO ; @alo_oficial & @McLarenIndy should invest in @IndyCar = YES!


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