Fernando Alonso’s upcoming appearance in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 is attracting a lot of attention across motorsport and the double Formula 1 world champion believes that success in other series would prove he is the best driver in the world.
Alonso will skip the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix and will instead drive a Honda-powered McLaren-branded DW12 IndyCar in the Indy 500. It will be his first appearance at the legendary race and will be the first time he has taken part in a high-speed oval event.
Speaking in the pre-event press conference for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Alonso explained that to prove he is the best driver in the world he would either have to surpass Michael Schumacher’s record of seven F1 world titles, which he does not think is possible, or instead achieve success in other forms of motorsport.
The ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport – victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours – is something that Alonso is targeting. He has won at Monaco twice and has stated that he plans to compete at Le Mans after he has finished racing in F1, which he reiterated today remains his priority for 2018.
“He said: [To race the Indy 500 as a current F1 driver] is something that is not very common. In the past it was about the best drivers in the world, best cars, best races. Then it became more and more professional and everyone was dedicated to just one series. This year the possibility was there for us.
“If I want to be the best driver in the world I can either win eight F1 World titles, one more than Michael, which is impossible. Or I can win different races in different series in moments in my career and be a driver that can race and win in any car in any series.”
Alonso joked that winning the world karting championship would set him apart from Graham Hill, who is so far the only driver to have won the Triple Crown after taking victory in the 1972 Le Mans race, but he also explained that his Indy appearance would not have been possible if Ron Dennis was still in charge at McLaren and not its current executive director, Zak Brown.
“Zak is a man that has a bigger vision than other team principals or bosses that I have had,” said Alonso. “He sees motorsport differently; he sees McLaren bigger and no longer concentrated on F1.
“He is a true racer, so it is great that McLaren had Zak come on board last year. Because Zak is American he was pushing for the Indy 500, and Eric [Boullier, McLaren’s racing director] who is French was pushing for Le Mans,” said Alonso.
“The McLaren-Honda partnership, to be able run this in Indy 500, was very attractive this year.
The 2017 season has been tough for McLaren so far after Honda’s third attempt at a V6 turbo engine proved to be troublesome in winter testing. It has been suggested that allowing Alonso to race at Indianapolis and give him a shot at the Triple Crown is an attempt to keep him on-board for the rest of this year and happy ahead of contract negotiations for 2018.
But the Spanish driver insisted that his desire to race in other categories was not new.
He said: “It’s not that it came to our mind because this year we are struggling, or last year or the last two years.
“This is something that I keep repeating from 2014, I remember being in Ferrari and talking about the possibility to Marco Mattiacci and people in Ferrari [about] even racing 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Ferrari 458. So it’s nothing new because of the performance of this year.”
Alonso’s rivals surprised he is missing Monaco
When asked for their thoughts on Alonso decision to miss the Monaco Grand Prix to race at Indianapolis, several of his rivals said they would not skip an F1 race to compete in another series.
“In my case it was completely different, I didn’t go away from F1 in the way that he does,” said Nico Hulkenberg, who won the 2015 Le Mans race while contracted to the Force India F1 team.
“I would never have done it if I had to miss a race for it, especially Monaco. I am a bit surprised, like everybody, about this situation.”
Lewis Hamilton, who arrives in Bahrain sharing the 2017 world championship points lead with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, was another driver who dismissed the idea of missing a grand prix to race elsewhere. But the Mercedes driver did describe how he’d like to try another motorsport category in the future.
He said: “There was a time when drivers could do multiple series so it is pretty cool [for Alonso]. I wouldn’t want to miss out any races in F1; you need to do all the races.
“[But] I would like to do MotoGP, I’d love to ride a MotoGP bike – or a NASCAR race, like the Daytona 500.”
What have you made of Alonso’s Indy 500 switch? Would winning the Triple Crown make him the best driver in the modern world? Leave your thoughts in the comment section or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.