Photo: Lars Baron
By: Kobe Lambeth
I remember when I first saw the news as I awoke on a beautiful Spring afternoon in April. At first, I believed it was “fake news” or a late April Fools Day prank, but it was shockingly true. Active McLaren-Honda Formula One driver, Fernando Alonso announced that he would skip the Monaco Grand Prix to travel to the United States, in order to compete in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, driving a McLaren-Honda entry fielded by Andretti Autosport.
Honestly, nobody saw this coming. Of course, people probably daydreamed of something significant happening, but not a well-respected Formula One World Champion choosing to miss the biggest grand prix of the year in favor of the American open wheel classic at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In a short amount of time, Alonso will have to learn quickly as the Indianapolis 500 is next month, plus the learning curve is steeper as Alonso has never raced on an oval. After taking a few days of digest the shocking news and listen to hundreds of opinions, there are mixed feelings in the motorsports community about the massive challenge Alonso will face once he takes his first laps around the historic speedway.
Some of Alonso’s F1 rivals seem to support his decision but are questioning the decision to skip Monaco, where the power unit should not play a major factor in lap times compared to other tracks on the F1 circuit. There are some who are completely against the idea of a driver skipping a grand prix and trading Formula One for IndyCar. Finally, those like myself, fully embrace and respect Alonso’s quest to tackle the mindblowing speeds of American oval racing.
I understand that skipping the Monaco Grand Prix may seem like Alonso does not want to be a part of Formula One anymore, but it appears to be a smart decision considering the season has not started off the way everyone at McLaren-Honda envisioned. With the current state of the car and not scoring championship points in the first two rounds, Alonso does not have much to lose by skipping Monaco. The Top 10 finishers are rewarded points while everyone else gets nothing, so leaving for Indianapolis could be for the best this time around.
Both Formula One and IndyCar should benefit from Alonso competing for glory at Indy. Alonso is loved by the fans in Formula One, so his diehard supporters will likely watch their favorite driver on race day. This is a perfect way to introduce IndyCar to a new audience and possibly gain new supporters. Some F1 fans have questioned oval racing, so actually seeing one of their drivers compete in this crown jewel event may give them a new view of something they once doubted.
IndyCar will get new exposure from a worldwide audience with the addition of Fernando Alonso in a livery similar to the McLaren-Honda F1 car. Overall, Formula One and IndyCar will be big winners from this deal. Both series will get worldwide exposure and more fans may pay attention to the events leading up to Memorial Day weekend. However, the ultimate winner is the race fan.
Crossovers are not common anymore due to the rigorous schedules in auto racing series throughout the world. The most recent crossover was in 2014, when Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star, Kurt Busch, attempted “The Double” as he finished 6th in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport and 40th in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after a blown engine for Stewart-Haas Racing. Instead of getting upset at Alonso for choosing Indy over Monaco, we should embrace it as we are lucky to have this historic deal come together in a short amount of time.
How often are we going to get an “active” F1 driver competing in the Indianapolis 500? Although Alexander Rossi won last year’s addition, he was not an active F1 driver at the time, but he was a reserve driver for the now defunct Manor F1 Team. Winning the race as a rookie was absolutely an incredible feat. However, having a driver such as Fernando Alonso with many years of F1 experience, two world championships, and two-time winner of the Monaco Grand Prix truly takes the Indianapolis 500 to a different level.
As a two-time winner of Formula One’s biggest event and a two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso has nothing left to prove in Formula One. He is in the prime of his career and his looking for a new challenge. Racing on an oval where speeds reach 230mph is definitely a challenge for one of the best drivers in the world. There will be so much to learn in such a short amount of time, but I strongly believe that Alonso has the skills necessary to succeed in the 500 mile oval race.
As we wait for May 28, 2017, the excitement will build and there will be many unknowns. For any doubters of this historic challenge, I advise you to be more open-minded and embrace it. This is significant and rare for the worldwide motorsports audience so the spotlight will be on Formula One and IndyCar until the checkered flag is waved. Sometimes, we need a new adventure to refuel our passion for what we truly love.