Despite months of tweets, loaded comments, suggestive remarks and that test run at Barber, Fernando Alonso’s flirtatious entanglement with IndyCar appears now to be nothing more than a long con. It seems the series and its fans have been caught up in the ego-trip of a driver who knows his relevance is diminishing and his legacy will forever remain incomplete.
The big tease
On the eve of the 2018 US Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso revealed that a full season of IndyCar in 2019 was “never in his thinking”. For the series’ fanbase and stakeholders – this writer included – that had nurtured the hope of welcoming the Spaniard full-time, it came as a huge disappointment.
Alonso has teased and generally toyed with IndyCar since his Indy 500 debut in 2017. Whether it was his dismissal of the processional Monaco Grand Prix versus the competitive Indy 500 earlier this year or testing the current IndyCar road course car in September, there has been plenty of evidence. Established IndyCar names like Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti happily played along on social media as Alonso posted leading tweet after leading tweet.
In retrospect, it feels a lot like the self-soothing of a battered ego.
From the spotlight to the sidelines
The 37-year-old has spent the best part of 18 years at the sharp end of F1. Constantly in the spotlight for good and bad reasons but always a hot topic of discussion in various guises. There has been Alonso the driver adored by millions of fans and the man who beat Schumacher in his prime. Alonso who went toe-to-toe with Vettel and Hamilton. Alonso the misunderstood genius who believed in Honda and McLaren only to be given nothing in return.
Now, Alonso is the soon-to-retire F1 star (despite him technically only taking a sabbatical). No longer in demand, no longer relevant and the records of Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettel forever outwith his reach. It is that impending irrelevance and unfulfilled promise that seems to have triggered this whole exercise.
Plan B: the triple crown
Despite attempts by Liberty to change his mind, Alonso must have been stung by the comprehensive lack of interest in his services. McLaren – struggling to keep their heads above water and maintain some sense of legitimacy in F1 – still want him but otherwise, that’s it.
Red Bull have no interest, ditto Mercedes and despite Ferrari’s imploding 2018 campaign, he is not welcome there either. With time against him, no other teams on the grid can offer the instant route to the front row he desperately craves. And – being brutally honest – they simply aren’t interested in the Spaniard when the next generation are already coming through.
The anticipation that came with Alonso possibly pinning his colors to the IndyCar mast full-time must have stroked his ego. Without the will he/won’t he saga, he would have had a fraction of the media coverage garnered this year. And his ‘triple crown’ bid – while fantastic if he is still committed to it – is ultimately just a ‘plan B’.
The harsh reality is that he will not win another F1 race, let alone another title. With his contemporaries likely to end their careers with several F1 World titles apiece, he clearly felt compelled to do something different.
Did Alonso imply or did we infer too much?
Trying to reconcile Alonso’s public pronouncements on IndyCar with his recent revelation leaves you to wonder whether semantics played a part. Did IndyCar as a community infer too much from the former-Ferrari driver’s interactions on social media? Did we allow thoughts of what might be, the media spotlight and perhaps a return to the glory days of IndyCar to distort the reality of the situation: that Alonso was never going to race full-time in America?
But if Alonso was only interested in a return to Indy for the final part of his ‘triple crown’ why did he test at Barber? What value do the IndyCar broadcast rights for Spain have to Alonso if, as rumoured, he has purchased those rights but never intended on doing a full season? Or did Alonso simply imply more than was his real intention because it whipped us all into a frenzy?
Time to show some respect
There are perhaps only 3 people who know the truth of Alonso’s intentions toward IndyCar this year: Alonso himself, McLaren CEO Zak Brown and Michael Andretti (though that might be over-estimating Brown and Andretti’s involvement). It is however clear that only Alonso knows his longer-term intentions.
IndyCar is not F1 in status or standing. It is not even back on a par with NASCAR but that does not mean it deserves less respect from outsiders. Alonso treatment of fans, drivers and the series this year has been unfair. Particularly when you consider how warmly IndyCar embraced the Spaniard during his first Indy 500 adventure. Something he has not experienced for several years in F1.
IndyCar offered Alonso the opportunity to pursue a different kind of legacy when he was in the depths of his McLaren-Honda nightmare and had burned many an F1 bridge. Such goodwill rarely lasts and burning bridges on the other side of Atlantic could leave his ‘new’ legacy just as unfulfilled the as the original.