Now, I am going to try to do something here that is probably not advisable as someone who is mainly an F1 fan: I am attempting a short review of Alonso’s running in the Indianapolis 500. Now I fully understand that I know very little about IndyCar or American Oval Speedway racing, but I am going to approach this purely from the facts I gleaned from the various streams I watched in order to interpret the events of the race and the concept of the race itself from a Fernando Alonso and F1 point of view.
As you can see from the above photo, Fernando didn’t win the race. Which for me as a huge fan, knowing that he easily could have done, is a massive upset. I was severely sad when he was forced to retire. Ironically it was an engine failure from his Honda that took him out with just 20 laps to go: he just can’t catch a break can he? But I am going to try to look through my figurative tears and focus on the plus points of Fernando’s run. There are many to be found throughout his time in America, even for someone who knows very little about their brand of open-wheel racing. Firstly I am going to talk about what I made of the race itself compared to F1 and then I will talk about Fernando.
The Indianapolis 500
Now, let’s just make one thing clear for people of an F1 persuasion like myself: IndyCar Oval racing is not just about ‘turning left’ and to say so is reductive. Well, okay they do only turn left I will concede that, but as with any sport there are minute intricacies at play and this brand of racing is certainly not easy as some fools would have you think.
I get it. If there are any Americans out there reading this: I get your racing. It is highly, highly entertaining. Whilst the streams had a little too much advertising for my liking, no amount could detract from the excitement of seeing cars go 3, 4 or 5 wide at around 200mph. Any F1 fan who says this racing is boring, stop and just think. We long for overtakes every race in Formula 1 and this race had at least 30 changes for the lead of the event, if not more. Speaking of the event, this was an event. The Americans really know how to put on a show and Formula 1 could learn a lot: both from the way the race is run and how it is publicised across the country and the world.
One of my favourite parts about the race was how close in performance the cars were: as far as I can make out they are essentially all the same chassis, but with different engines and set-ups. What this means is that the driver and their courage is a far more integral component of the machine than in F1; where the expertise of the engineers is often king. However that in itself is of course a little reductive: engineers of course still play a huge part in IndyCar and drivers a huge part in F1. Also, in both sports some teams inevitably have more funding than others and so on and so forth, which limits and benefits teams alike. But I got a real sense today that almost anyone could win this race; even when there were a handful of laps to go. That is real excitement. If you told me that a Sauber had a chance of winning an F1 race I would laugh in your face. Hell if you said that a Force India or Williams could win I’d probably laugh just as hard. In F1 this season we don’t have a one horse race (and thank God) but wouldn’t it be amazing if anyone could win an F1 race? Imagine how exciting the championship would be if the teams had stock chassis; each twist and turn would be seismic. Each point vital. It would be a true driver’s world championship, instead of a political game to get the best car at any opportunity.
So thank you America for this race; I am sure to tune in next year for more straight-line speed than is possible to experience elsewhere. I am not going to abandon F1 though obviously. I still find the things I have criticised above intriguing, such as the politics and car developments. It would just be nice to see the series developed more around the idea of races as spectacles, like the Indy500, rather than the brands of the racing teams. That is the impression I got of IndyCar: it is spectacle and competition first above all else, designed to please all of the huge 400,000 strong crowd. It is also true though, that I have to recognise that without Fernando Alonso being in the race this year, I would not have tuned in and neither would many Europeans. I think that this is a lesson to the FIA and other sporting bodies: let the drivers contest cross series like this. It can only be good for the profile and pull of motorsport world-wide to have the greatest in the world contest each-other in multiple racing disciplines. Hulkenberg at Le Mans? That worked a treat too! Hamilton in Nascar? Yes please! Vettel in the Isle Of Man TT Race? Make it happen!
Fernando Alonso’s Race
One opinion kept cropping up about Fernando no matter where I looked: his time in IndyCar was “hugely impressive” first and foremost. I know little of what it takes to be quick round an oval: but I imagine it requires a real delicacy of throttle and steering input and also a handful of patience and concentration over 200 laps. Now, whilst Alonso didn’t finish the race he did complete 180 of those laps and the ABC commentator informed us that over those laps he had the “highest average lap speed” across the entire field of drivers. He also was running in the top 10 for the entire time until his retirement and had led the race for around 30 laps in total, overtaking for the lead on numerous occasions. I don’t know much, but I reckon these stats mean that had he got the right strategy and had luck not deserted him, he would have probably won the race.
It wasn’t just in the race that he was impressive either: he also qualified for the ‘fast nine’ shoot-out on May the 21st by finishing 7th and then during the run on Sunday for those fastest nine drivers managed to qualify for 5th on the grid. This, for a man who a month previously had never set foot in an IndyCar, is just superb. Such qualities clearly have made Fernando a bit of a fan favourite out there in America as well; the reception he got from the 400,000 strong crowd upon retiring was simply immense. They will want him back sooner rather than later and to be honest if Fernando was to quit F1 and go to IndyCar after this, then I could not blame him at all in any way. He’d be forgiven. Indeed, as I write this edit on the 30th of May, Fernando has just beaten Ed Jones, a British rookie who came 3rd, as the Indy500 rookie of the year. What a performance from Alonso.
It is hugely disappointing that Fernando did not finish the race, but as was pointed out he “acquitted himself nobly” throughout his time in America. It is almost sick how he was taken out of the race by the same problems he was trying to escape in F1: Honda engines blowing up in his face. However, his reputation as a thoroughbred racer now cannot be in dispute: he has excelled himself in two different forms of Motorsport.
I do not think Fernando is going to stop here. Should he retire from F1 I expect to see him back at the Indy500. Similarly he will doubtless grace the 24Hrs of Le Mans. He is hunting down the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport after all. Today he again proved himself fast & adaptable at short notice: cementing his status as a true titan of the racing world.
What Is Next?
Well, obviously Fernando’s American dream is over for this year and whilst he may return it is now back to his lowly McLaren-Honda in Formula 1. There has been plenty of talk surrounding his future whilst he has been away, but I simply cannot believe that he will stay at McLaren now Indy has reminded him what it is like to be at the front in a competitive car. I spoke in my post about his career of where his future might lie. I don’t think it is too far fetched that the answer is “anywhere where he has the chance to win” and whether that is in Formula 1 or not, is now perhaps irrelevant. He looked like he genuinely enjoyed himself in America and as a true great, he deserves to win things.