Fernando Alonso fulfilled a dream today by winning the Le Mans 24 hours with Toyota and in the process completed the second leg of his quest to win the “triple crown” of Monaco GP, Le Mans and Indianapolis 500.
Only Graham Hill has managed the feat and that was completed in 1972, almost fifty years ago.
So what will he do now? Will his focus be entirely on completing his quest and could that mean calling time on his F1 career?
The Spaniard, who will be 37 next month, picked up his first international race win since May 2013 at the WEC race in Spa this season and backed it up with the Le Mans win, partnered with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.
He celebrated 300 Grand Prix in Canada is approaching 100 Grands Prix without a win. With little prospect of a race win in F1 on the horizon, as McLaren lag well behind the other Renault powered cars, let alone the Ferrari and Mercedes works teams, will he quit F1 to focus on the Indy 500 in May 2019 or will he seek to combine the event with an F1 calendar?
Last year the race did not clash. This year it did. The 2019 race calendars have not been set but in Monaco the promoters of the leading FIA championships met to look at scheduling for 2019. IndyCar was not part of that meeting but clearly this potential clash will be one that F1 will be keen to avoid.
The World Endurance Championship changed its schedule this year to accommodate Alonso who is doing the WEC championship as well as F1. Alonso is committed to the ‘super season’ which takes in two Le Mans 24 hours and features races next March at Sebring and Spa in May.
Nigel Mansell quit F1 for IndyCar in 1993 and won the championship first time out, including wins on long and short ovals. It would be tricky for Alonso to fit in with their schedule, less so if he were just doing WEC and not F1.
This year the IndyCar schedule featured one short oval race at Phoenix prior to the month of May at Indianapolis.
Alonso is sure to go for the Indy 500 win with all gone blazing now and it will be interesting to see whether McLaren are the team to enter him.
Last time he ran with Honda engines, but since he split with them at the end of last season, the irony of winning Le Mans with Toyota will not be lost on Honda senior management and is a considerable coup for Toyota, who picked up their first Le Mans win after many years of trying.
It’s worth noting that Juan Pablo Montoya is also on two of the three legs of the Triple Crown, although he has not made much fuss about it being a quest. He won Monaco and the Indy 500 and was racing at Le Mans this year, but not in a race win eligible car. Ironically he was driving for the United Autosports team of Zak Brown, who is Alonso’s boss at McLaren F1 team.
JPM will no doubt be back in 2019, but as Toyota has a strangle hold again next season, he’ll probably be waiting for the new 2020 regulations for a genuine challenge. Alonso may have cracked Indy by then.
Alonso won the race in Toyota #8 car, beating the #7 car in the process. The Spaniard played his part with an exceptional night-time stint. He dragged the car – which had been two minutes down on the other Toyota – back onto its tail with a quadruple stint in the night.
The #8 car took the lead as Nakajima passed Kobayashi and the #7 car dropped after Kamui Kobayashi cost his crew the chance to win when he stayed out instead of pitting. He had to reduce speed for part of his next lap,as he was marginal on fuel.
Although critics will argue that this was an easy win, with both Audi and Porsche withdrawing from WEC and Le Mans in the last two seasons, Alonso (and history) will not care about that. It is another debut win for an F1 driver, following Nico Hulkenberg’s 2015 victory with Porsche.
“Alonso has come and conquered Le Mans, along with his team-mates, and not put one foot wrong as we’ve seen all through the race,” said nine times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen.
“I think he also sees the chance to be world [endurance] champion, which means he will continue to drive until Le Mans next year – and I think he will do that.
“I would not predict that he stops in F1, but he’ll definitely be back at the Indy 500. Maybe he’ll do a full season.”
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