Weekend Debate: Could Fernando Alonso and Formula 1 emerge as winners from the Indy 500?
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Alonso, Villeneuve
Posted By: Editor   |  06 May 2017   |  3:40 pm GMT  |  158 comments

Fernando Alonso is three weeks away from competing in the Indianapolis 500 in lieu of the Monaco Grand Prix and the consequences for Alonso, McLaren and F1 itself of the two-time world champion’s move are becoming more apparent as we get closer to the race on May 28.

At an event at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, Surrey, McLaren CEO Zak Brown, IndyCar parent company CEO Mark Miles, three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti and current IndyCar driver Max Chilton spoke to JA on F1 about the challenges which await the Spaniard.

What are the physical and mental challenges?

With F1’s new rule changes in 2017 requiring more of drivers in terms of strength, Alonso should easily be able to cope with the physical hurdles. He’s already tested at the circuit, comfortably reaching nearly 223 mph. He’ll hit speeds of more than 230 mph on race day, higher than those in F1.

According to Chilton, who drives for rival team Chip Ganassi Racing this year, “Your heart rate is higher in IndyCar because you are mentally drained and exhausted from concentrating. I would say physically they are pretty similar but you need to be physically stronger in IndyCar because you don’t have power steering. I think there are certain races because of the heat in Formula 1 where you need to [have] more cardiovascular [fitness].

Franchitti ran 151 races over his 11-year IndyCar career which ended in 2013, also briefly having tested for Jaguar F1 in 2000. “I would say Indianapolis is not a physical race that requires a lot of strength, it’s about the subtleties,” he said.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton hit a peak G-force of 6.5G in the opening Australian Grand Prix through Turn 1. Indianapolis puts forces of around 4G on drivers through but for a longer period of time. So while Alonso might have the strength to race, it’s the “mental discipline” that Franchitti said Alonso needs as a rookie at Indianapolis.

“You cannot lose concentration for a fraction of a second in the race or it goes wrong in a hurry. He’s one of the greatest drivers of the generation but this is not about talent, it’s going to be about experience and getting as much of that experience as he can,” continued Franchitti.

A “win-win-win” situation for all?

Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent Hulman and Company, said “We genuinely believe this is a win-win-win. It’s great for Fernando – you can see him refresh and emotionally it will be great for him. His stock in the States and his recognition is up, as is Formula 1’s.

“Everyone’s heard of Formula 1 but we only have one race at the moment and I’m sure they’re trying as much as Alonso is in many respects so [F1] will take advantage of that,” continued Miles.

When asked about further collaborations with F1 in the same vein, he said “We are certainly open to that. We have not had those conversations but we have a lot of respect for the new ownership of Formula 1”.

McLaren Executive Director, Brown, agreed, “So far everything’s gone unbelievably smoothly at the tests and it’s credit [due] to all three organisations that have come together, how excited everyone is, just how seamless everything has gone.

“We’ve had four weeks of preparation. I think what IndyCar did with the test was awesome and it is the power of digital social media – I think other series can learn from what IndyCar did there.”

The IndyCar live-stream of Alonso’s test garnered more than two million views this week in all. While IndyCar’s profile has jumped in Europe, F1 has a long way to go if the motorsport genre is to emulate that success in the US.  According to IndyCar, its TV viewership has grown 55% from 2013, while F1’s figures are almost stagnant at a 1% increase.

With McLaren languishing at the back this season, Brown said, “We are of course frustrated, as is Honda, with how things are going. it’s not going to be a quick fix – I don’t think we can expect much progress over the year – but it is important to remind the world that we are committed to each other as we are getting a lot of questions about it.

“We felt this was a good way to demonstrate that McLaren-Honda were committed to each other, committed to winning and it’s great that Honda has such a competitive platform in IndyCar so I think it helps show that we are united.

Worth the risk?

Nelson Piquet broke his legs, Nigel Mansell suffered a serious back injury on an oval and more recently IndyCar has had two fatalities in the last decade as British drivers Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson passed away in 2011 and 2016, respectively. For Alonso, there is certainly risk, but McLaren is taking a gamble by letting their most experienced driver attempt the Indy 500. Rival team boss Christian Horner said Brown should see a psychiatrist..

Brown, however, defended the team’s decision: “Motor racing is a dangerous sport, Fernando has been injured twice in our Formula One car and I think the Indianapolis Speedway has been a very safe place with a couple of decades now since its last incident.

“Fernando is extremely prepared, the car is exceptional, he’s going to have a good amount of testing. I think any time a driver gets in a race car there’s a certain amount of risk but Fernando is as prepared as possible and I don’t think there’s any more or less risk in any of these forms of motorsport.

“If you don’t want to take risks then you probably shouldn’t be in motorsport. You take as much preparation as you can and we are very comfortable with our decision.”

“He’s a racing driver and the fact that he wants to do the Triple Crown, I applaud that,” agreed Franchitti. “The margin for error is tiny but for somebody like Fernando he’s going to see that as a challenge – it will definitely heighten the senses when he gets out there – I see that only as positive,” said the former champion.

Room for error?

Chilton crashed during practice for the 2016 Indy 500, having just finished a lap at 228 mph, as he spun through a corner nose-first into the outside wall of Turn 2. Oversteer in F1 is corrected by turning away from the direction of the slide, whereas in IndyCar that is a much more difficult proposition.

There is much less room for error compared to F1 with no run-off on the outside wall and a pack of 32 other cars beside you.

“If you have that level of experience you can slide the back round the corner a little bit. If you are going to run it right on that ragged edge you have to catch it very quickly within the first two or three degree and if you don’t that’s when you’ve got to try and correct it and that can send you right,” said Franchitti.

Furthermore, Alonso will have a spotter in his ear at all times, telling him where his opponents are to avoid collisions and help him overtake.

“Basically the spotter is helping you understand what is going on in your blind spots. I don’t think it will be a problem – it will be something new to understand but I think he will pick it up very, very quickly. The spotter sometimes say ‘you’re clear by five’ and you look in the mirror and think ‘five what?’,” according to Franchitti.


Could Alonso take victory? 

Right now, the McLaren driver hasn’t finished a single race this year owing to reliability problems. However, with identical machines in IndyCar running either a Honda or Chevrolet power unit, he stands as much a chance of finishing at Indianapolis as his opponents. Moreover, his team, Andretti Autosport, took victory in last  year’s Indy 500 with rookie driver Alexander Rossi at the wheel and he will have team boss Michael Andretti himself doing his race strategy.

“It will be difficult. Nobody is under any misapprehension here, this is going to be tough. Can he do it? Absolutely,” said Franchitti.

“But again it’s the experience, that will be the tough thing and if it comes down to a caution with 20, 25 laps to go and he pits to put on new tyres that’s when all bets are off.

“There’s 20-something drivers who realistically can be competitive enough to win that race on pace, never mind strategy or any of that stuff…whereas in F1 you’ve got what you’ve got because of the latest developments and you don’t have much tweaking going on. This is constantly polishing off to make sure that it’s the best car for you,” he said.

F1 world champions have gone on to win the Indy 500: Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi. Juan Pablo Montoya is another ex F1 driver who has won it twice and Rossi won it last year after being an F1 stand-in. Alonso will certainly be the highest quality driver in the field, albeit lacking experience in oval racing.

There are a growing number of people who say that Alonso has a very real chance of joining the exclusive group and completing the second leg of his quest to win F1’s legendary Triple Crown: Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24hrs.

Are you getting excited about Alonso’s Indy 500? Will you be making a point of watching it?Is it worth the risk and will all parties reap the rewards? Leave a comment in the section below or on the JA on F1 Facebook page.

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1

If he was to compete in Monaco.. the changes are: not starting ; stopping on lap one;
or finishing /racing his utmost for 15th or breaking down on the second last lap..
Take your pick…

2

Alberto Ascari and Juan Fangio ran the 500. I realize I’m dating myself, but I remember watching Jack Brabham, Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and a host of other F1 drivers run at The Brickyard.

They brought a whole new dimension to the world stage. We haven’t seen that in a very long time.

I’m a road racing fan and I did some of it in my younger years. Yet that experience reinforces for me that both Indianapolis and Monaco require a different skill set (I liken Monaco to running full-bore through a glittering garden hose for an hour and a half). Both require intense and constant concentration and even when mentally, “In the zone”, it’s an incredible achievement and absolutely breathtaking to watch.

I know what Christian Horner said about it, but in truth, I’ve been wondering for a while if he wouldn’t benefit from seeing a therapist himself (no disrespect intended).

Indy is a dangerous circuit. That’s not going to change. Auto racing is dangerous. Unless we develop a series utilizing surplus military tanks, that’s not going to change.

Racing drivers are risk takers. That’s not going to change. Show me a driver that doesn’t know what they’re getting into and I’ll show you someone who drools on him/herself.

I earnestly believe that what Alonso is doing is truly great for the sport – the sport as a whole.

We saw what Nico Hulkenberg could do at Le Mans. Wow! What a performance. I would really like to see more of it. It’s an opportunity to see a known quantities demonstrate just how good they really are; to see their talent manifest itself in new and exciting ways.

Oh by the way… When’s the last time we had the immense pleasure of seeing Fernando Alonso do his stuff in a genuinely competitive car?

3

I bet the sponsors of McLaren are loving it. Buy one, get one free, and they will be getting lots of TV and internet airtime from Alonso’s adventure.

4

Before Alonso -Indy -F1 marketing stunt i have mentioned word “Indy” exactly 3 times – 2 of them in relation to Indiana Jones. So in that regard this stunt works super. I bet it works vice versa in US and A too.

5

It’s funny, rarely a day goes by without Christian Horner moaning about something or other…

6

Surely it is win/win barring anything embarrassing happening like a Honda engine failure before the start! I won’t speak to his chances of winning, Indy can be a lottery at the best of times and in that regard he has as good a chance as any.

It is depressing though to see the casual motorsports fans bemoaning the calibre of Indycar. These drivers actually have a much higher pedigree for wheel to wheel racing and overtaking, which is why you have seen so many Indycar alumni have an instant impact when they come over, such as Montoya and Villenueve carving through the field.

Indycar does a lot of things right that F1 fails. They tend to give away the whole race for free on facebook within a week of the broadcast, show interesting test sessions live like with Alonso and generally just cater to the fans much better. Liberty, F1, the teams and the drivers could learn so much from Indycar to improve the show.

I remember Patrick Head in the Williams heyday would often spend time at the back of the grid checking out how the lower profile teams do things, and he made a comment about the different environment they have to work with leads to greater innovation in some cases that he wanted to learn from. F1 would do well to take that philosophy.

7

Well said.

8

I just hope his engine doesn’t fail. That’d be such

9

So much drama over one race, I am surprised at so many negative comments on Alonso’s participation in Indy 500

My personal background (Mexican) makes me biased of course, but I would guess most British/Aussie fans would be more knowledgeable, or at least not negative about Indy and US racing.
I am also an old bloke and was quite common in the old days for drivers to race several categories, so I don’t find it odd for a driver to try another option if available, like Hulk did in LeMans

Conflicting dates are an issue but from my point of view it has been more of a Bernie imposition than a FIA decision. You could plan a calendar where Indy, Monaco and LeMans don’t coincide and make it easier for the drivers (and the fans) instead of impossible
If anything, longer series with complex commercial contracts have made drivers stick to a single category for the last 10-15 years

Of course any driver with a shot at a championship and/or a race win should stick to his main series, but if Alonso’s options at Monaco are a DNS, a DNF or a hard fought 12th place, why not try Indy instead, even if he oly gets a DNS, a DNF or a hard fought 12th

F1 is of course the “top” category in single seater-open wheel racing and has always been so IMHO, but that does not mean racing in Indy is easy or the cars are slow. The athmosphere is more friendly, different and it is always a fun race regardless of who wins and which place your favourite drivers ends up in, as opposed to a follow the RB, MB cars of late in F1

Indy, CART or whatever the name has always been tight racing and they go damn fast, even on twisty tracks, and oval racing, even if not my personal preference, usually delivers good TV viewing.
I have seen them live in Mexico (good, nice throaty roar Seebee) and followed them on TV when Mexican drivers were doing well in the series, and still catch a race now and then
Indy 500 attendance both live on grandstands, or following on TV, I guess is in the SuperBowl, Oscars, UEFA Finals levels, which should be above Monaco GP ratings, (but welcome anyone with actual figures to correct me), so that should be good for McLaren, Honda, Andretti and Alonso

As for myself, will wake up at 7 am to watch Monaco as usual and then wait for the 500 where I hope the best for Alonso

10

@ Ferggsa…Good post. I agree with most of your sentiments.

11

If Liberty really wants to push that sort of cooperation from next year on they should work on a calender there Le Mans and Indy500 don’t fall on a F1 race. Hülkenberg winning LeMans was great and you saw that all drivers would love to do the same…

12

From what I can see BT Sport doesn’t have a NowTV-style subscription model allowing for short-term access, so unfortunately I will not be watching.

This is a shame as I’m fascinated by the Indy 500, thanks in no small part to a certain moustachioed F1 refugee in the early 90’s.

Moustache has paved the way for eyebrows!

13

Thanks to Todt and the FIA messing around with the Formula 1 formula until they’ve completely ruined it, there are no competitive cars except for maybe 3 or 4 of them. That leaves 16 cars worth little more than window dressing relegated to the status of mobile chicane. Mr. Chase Carey will have his hands full trying to make a show out of nothing.
Alonso’s expedition to Indianapolis really amounts to jumping ship – like just get me outa here. Alonso is a brilliant young man, no doubt abundantly aware that his current problems in F1 are a direct result of Todt demanding battery powered expensive complicated unmanageable junk.
Good for Alonso. In my opinion, a jump to IndyCar is a statement about the total ineptitude of Todt and the FIA.
Can Alonso win the 500? He’s got a chance but even if he washes out for whatever reason on the first lap, his appearance at the Brickyard is a breath of fresh air for Motorsport.
And Indycar, all up and down the IndyCar paddock, has welcomed him with open arms.
IndyCar is a vastly better open wheel racing series than F1.
Alonso should get Andretti to sign him on for a full time IndyCar ride for 2018.
Then more top F1 drivers should follow Alonso to IndyCar.
Then Chase Carey and his management and marketing team should drop F1 take the reins at IndyCar because they’ll never in a million years get F1 out of its current uncompetitive mess.
Then IndyCar should expand to worldwide venues.
IndyCar is vastly more competitive than F1 as we all know a completely different winner can take the flag on any weekend.
With the right CEO and a few more full time guys like Alonso on the grid, IndyCar could eclipse F1 like a Supernova.

14
Garrett Bruce

Of course ! But, then try to watch it every year, even when it has to be with a recording. Its a tradition here in America, no matter whether it’s been roadsters, or rear-engine machines or which sanctioning body and whatever acronym they choose.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, will be munching on BBQ’d Johnsonville Brats and swilling Guinness — or perhaps Deschutes Black Butte Porter (from Bend Oregon, U.S.A.). Thankfully, the Monaco GP is now available on the tube and early in the morning over here, so we get to enjoy both types of racing and admire the skills needed to be competitive in either environment.

Enjoy.

15

Could Alonso win? On the basis Rossi could then yes but the most likely outcome is that he won’t. I’m not entirely comfortable with the F1 community/fans implying Alonso is the second coming and those in Indy are not as skillful. There’s a whiff of arrogance that needs to be tempered.

Alonso himself is certainly being very respectful to Indy and the Indy Car drivers.

Franchitti is quoted in the editors introduction of Motorsports Magazine this year well before the Alonso announcement, maybe February edition don’t have it to hand, as to forces an Indy Car driver goes through. It was a sobering and mindblowing few paragraphs.

I’m quoting from memory so hopefully correct but Dario says the g-forces experienced in the corners are like holding 25-30kg dumbells. Due to the twisting motion your core is constricted and you are unable to either breath in or out.

At some tracks, Texas Speedway, because they are D-shaped ovals there is only one straight which you complete in 2 seconds.

You take a breath, then are unable to breathe in or out through turns 1, 2, breathe for two seconds make any adjustments, then hold for turns 3 and 4.

All whilst holding these dumbbells and with traffic around you and a wall right by you. Drivers black out momentarily and complete laps without recollection of the previous lap. Dario himself said he experienced minor blackouts/tunnel vision due to lack of oxygen.

Then do it for another 200 laps…

16

Yup. I read the same article. I remember when CART cancelled the first race at Texas. The g-forces were exceeding those experienced by astronauts. Drivers were getting vertigo.

17

The July issue of Motor Sport, with Alonso’s photo on the cover, included this quote below the image: “I want to win the Indy 500 and LeMans…”

Indy is the world’s oldest purpose built motor racing circuit. It is the world’s oldest motor race, already more than a decade old when LeMans began in 1923 and getting on toward 20 years old when the first Monaco GP was held in 1929. It is the largest single day, in-person spectator sporting event by orders of magnitude.

Given these facts, the Indy 500 lacks nothing in pedigree to the Monaco GP. For some, it lacks appeal. Certainly it lacks the snob appeal that Bernie Ecclestone sold as the essence of F1. But, in the end, certainly by the end, Bernie was selling little else. His recent remarks about overcharging for the product; Chase Carey’s response; and the number of now vacant tracks that bought into Bernie’s notion that you had to glam up and “do a Monaco”(Korea, India, Turkey, Sepang… added to which one can include the damage done to Donnington Park and the grievous expenses borne by Silverstone) bear that out.

Indy, Monaco, LeMans… those ARE the elemental racing challenges: of speed, of twisty streets, of time. They have endured, the essence of each undiminished. As a racing fan, I cannot fathom not being fascinated by all three.

Addendum: Since the F1 circus will never agree to run on an oval; and since the Indycar crowd routinely races on road and street courses; maybe a one-off at LeMans would be a good place to run them at the same time.

18

Ron Dennis must be having a conniption right about now. Clearly he would never in a million years allowed this to happen. Furthermore , to have two million people interacting with your driver and team on a personal level must be so foreign to him.

But the US must be a huge market for McLaren road cars, so maybe he’s choking back the bile and laughing on his way to the bank.

James–has anyone spoken to Ron to hear his thoughts on this news?

19

Will be at attendance @ IMS to cheer Fernando on!

20

All this hype, when it’s just as likely he will crash on the first lap.

21

haven’t watched this race for many years, too much luck involved

last years win was by a rookie who just followed his team mates to save fuel and won by making one less pit stop..question is will the team ask alonso to do that this year…sounds unlikely

22

“F1 world champions have gone on to win the Indy 500: Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi. Juan Pablo Montoya is another ex F1 driver who has won it twice and Rossi won it last year after being an F1 stand-in.”

What about Mario Andretti? Seems to me he was an F1 WDC and Indy winner or did he have to be F1 WDC first?

23

For me the fact that Fernandonis allowed to do it, is almost as exciting as him doing it! This whole idea would never have even been thought of a few years ago, Ron wouldn’t have allowed it in a million years, and Bernie would never countenance something he would see as promoting a rival series. This new cooperation between disciplines and openness from teams and the sport’s management tells me that the new era of F1 will be much more successful and interesting than the previous one. Horner’s clumsy comments tell me that there is still work to be done in terms of sweeping away the old guard and their old attitudes, but I’m sure they will get there in the end.

24

I fully agree. Nice to see that evolution !

25

Agreed. Horner’ s remarks are ironic, given that Adrian Newey cut his teeth at Indy.

26

It looks as though Alonso will have a high learning curve, driving at such close quarters is an experience I’m not sure he’s had.
I’m surprised whilst mentioning McLaren and Honda’s F1 issues you didn’t talk about the dreadful season Andretti cars are having this year, they need to get on top of these problems before considering them for the win.
Concerning “Alonso will certainly be the highest quality driver in the field,”; there will be oval experts running at Indy and a certain Columbian that won the event 2 years ago and has won in more categories that Alonso.

27

With you all the way regarding JPM, Jonathan. He is an exciting driver. Hope its a good dual between the two of them.

28

Interesting that Porsche and Toyota are saying they want nothing to do with Alonso for Le Mans for 2018.

Could they see the disruption to teams Alonso tends to brings with him and want none of it?

29

“Team Disruption” was exactly what Toyota’s Rob Leupen hinted at when interviewed by Autosport on their interest to get Alonso on their Le Man team, even as part of a three-car line-up:
“From my point of view, it has to be balanced within the team. It’s not a priority for us to get a big name in. There is no focus on this at all. Of course you would listen if he approached Toyota, but for us it’s not something we would say we are interested in. Not at all ! “

30
Robert Huizer

He’s a bit of a reversed Schumacher – a great racing driver with a special talent to make a team complete rubbish.

Either that, or he has the worst management in F1.

31
Ricciardo Aficionado

You think Michael Andretti is concerned about this? He did look fairly apprehensive on the rookie test day. Marco was kinda wary too I thought. Michael also has acrimonious race history with McLaren so maybe he is a sympathetic ear to Alonso’s disruptive attitude. Zak Brown is new gen McLaren, no disruption there. So I see the whole ego nexus at Indy, meshing pretty well.

32

Shame on you Honda! I can’t imagine this happening when Alonso was in Ferrari, even though the car was a dog.
You have had 4 years to develop a PU and this was designed to be in favor of manufacturers who already had experience in developing these road relevant turbo-trolleys. Ferrari had no experience and look where they are now.
Get out of F1, Honda. Go back to Lawn movers. /rant-off

33

That’s the kind if blinkered and superficial view i’d expect from the average football fan… oh… hang on……..

34

Exactly what Christian Horner said, he needs psychological help, not indulgence. Alonso is a delusional inadequate and this has all the making of a major disaster.

35

Get a life Fluffu. What an idiotic comment! But I guess your name says it all.

36

For sure I’ll be watching.

Alonso at Indy is the way a racing driver should promote F1 in the USA. Going on talk shows isn’t the right way. Are they men or “Loose Women” guests? This will get actual racing fans interested in F1. Not celebrities using it to be seen or the “Snapchat” generation watching for 5 mins until someone posts footage of a cat sneezing.

I would like to see other F1 drivers getting a go at Le Mans when there’s no crossover.

37

@Hello
“Actual racing fan” – whatever that means. I´ve been following F1 longer than Justin Bieber has lived but i don`t care about motor racing. All other forms of it just does`t appeal to me. It`s archaic and rather meaningless, but F1 got something ( at least had something ) that not an “actual racing fan” can appriciate – talent can make a difference. Not saying other forms of racing it`s impossible, but other forms want to make it a level playing field where luck has big part but in F1 fake results are very rare.
Distance of GP, equipment differential, personal ability give a more talented person a clear advantage – you appriciate the logic.

It`s interesting to watch how new owners will erode the essence of F1 in favor of unpredictability. Right now F1 is in the other spectrum in terms of unpredictability.

Alonso soul searching wanderings can turn some eyes towards F1 but when a 2 time WC finds it meaningless to participate in GP it just leaves the door open for other kind of meaningless PR stunts.

38
Ricciardo Aficionado

Alonso at Indy is the way a racing driver should promote F1 in the USA. Going on talk shows isn’t the right way.

Nailed it.
Marketing 101
Zak Brown showing some chops.

39

*Groan*. Scratch that itch!

40

He’s an adult with a mind of his own. A very well paid adult, and a top class racing driver who is bored and frustrated after more than two years tooling round in the bottom half of the grid. He may not win it, but Nico Hulkenberg won Le Mans first time out, so why not? Alexander Rossi did it last year and, with respect, he’s no Fernando Alonso.

My preciction: Alonso in the top three at Indy, Jenson running in the top ten at Monaco, a daft place to run modern F1 if ever there was one, before he loses power with half a dozen laps left.

41
Ricciardo Aficionado

Your prediction is eerily plausible.

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