It’s not often the motorsport world is collectively left in shock by a piece of news, but that’s exactly what happened this week. Formula One legend Fernando Alonso announced he would miss the Monaco Grand Prix to instead contest the Indianapolis 500. Both races are prestige events in the world of motorsport, and this exciting news shows Alonso is in touch with the history of this sport.
One of the key reasons Alonso gave for wanting to do the race is so he can attempt to win the triple crown of motorsport. He has already won the Monaco GP twice, in 2006 and 2007, and has already made his intention to try to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future widely known, therefore the Indianapolis 500 was the only race left to win.
It appears that the initial idea for contesting the race came as a light hearted joke from McLaren executive director Zak Brown about doing Indy together. It appears from here the idea settled and began to grow in the mind of Alonso, before crunch talks at last weekends Chinese Grand Prix solidified the idea.
Within the Indycar series there appears to have been a lot of support for the idea, with Stefan Wilson parking his own Indy 500 plans to accommodate Alonso, along with huge support from Indycar, Honda and the Andretti Autosport team that will run Alonso on behalf of McLaren. A weird coincidence is that Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti drove for McLaren during the 1993 season.
The reason why this news was so shocking to many motorsport fans is because of the speciality of modern drivers. In the modern age drivers are usually regimented in one series, especially at the top levels of racing. Whilst it’s not uncommon for drivers to do on-off races like this in other series, that is largely true in Sportscar or American racing rather than F1.
Alonso taking part in this years Indy 500 will make him the first driver to compete in the race and F1 in the same season since Brit cult hero Nigel Mansell halted his Indycar campaign for a late part-season at Williams in 1994. Whilst German driver Nico Hulkenberg surprised the racing world by first confirming and then winning the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, this did not generate as much headlines as Alonso.
Whilst Indycar has risen in popularity and prestige since the American open wheel reunification in 2008, the series is still no where near its previous popularity of the early 1990’s when Mansell was racing in the series. A lot of shock will have likely been the fact that a lot of people would not have thought Alonso would want to compete in the race. He has not mentioned his dreams of winning the triple crown a lot and no body would have predicted he would miss the Monaco GP to compete in the race.
A big reason why a lot of F1 drivers in the modern era do not compete in other races is because their teams are very regimented in what they allow them to do. Teams worry about another disaster situation such as what happened to Robert Kubica in 2011, where a big rally crash badly injured his hand and effectively forced a early retirement from F1. Many would have thought McLaren would have prevented Alonso from skipping the Monaco race for Indianapolis, but perhaps this is an attempt to appease a man unhappy with the current performance of his McLaren-Honda package.
This news is very exciting for motorsport fans because its a chance to see someone many people call the benchmark driver in F1 compete against the best American open wheel racers. The news will also remind many fans of a bygone era in F1. From the beginning of F1 in 1950 right up until the early 1990’s drivers would routinely add races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours to their F1 schedule.
It was not uncommon for drivers to compete in several different types of car throughout the season, and this diversification with F1 drivers is what fans loved to see. This is why the news is so exciting, as for the first time in a long while we will get to see a F1 world champion competing with the heroes from another series.
All fans of motorsport are winners with this latest news, with the announcement undoubtedly raising the profile of both Indycar and the Indianapolis 500 internationally. Hopefully the buzz surrounding this announcement and his performance in the race will convince some more F1 drivers to branch out and try the big events such as the Indy 500 or the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future. One thing is for certain however, as a fan I cannot wait to see how Alonso fares next month.
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