Even the most casual of race fans likely have noticed all the buzz around Formula One driver Fernando Alonso running in the Indianapolis 500, but unless they’re specifically fans of F1, many might think his entry is being over-hyped. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The two-time world champion isn’t competing in the race as a public relations stunt, but rather, he’s trying to showcase his talents in a way he currently can’t in F1. And, in doing so, he’s allowing motorsport fans to witness something that, by today’s standards, truly is unique.
Unlike in NASCAR and IndyCar, in which the regulations ensure some degree of parity, F1 teams’ performances are dictated by the equipment they have. For Alonso, that equipment is the McLaren-Honda MCL32. It’s so unreliable, he hasn’t yet finished a race in 2017, and so slow, his best qualifying result has been P13.
The 35-year-old arguably is the most talented driver currently racing in F1, but he’s been held back by his ailing Honda power unit since he joined McLaren in 2015. As a result, Alonso decided the best way to prove his talent as a racer, not just a Grand Prix driver, was to begin his quest for the triple crown.
Comprised of wins in the Monaco Grand Prix, Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans, the triple crown only has been won by one pilot, Graham Hill. With two wins in Monte Carlo to his name, and his first attempt at the 500 coming while he’s at his peak, Alonso stands the best chance of any driver at succeeding him.
One of the main reasons Hill’s feat hasn’t been repeated also partly is why Alonso’s first oval race will be worth watching. In the past, drivers frequently jumped back and forth across the pond to do double duty in F1 and IndyCar, whereas now, it essentially is unheard of.
Naysayers will argue Alonso having never driven an oval until May 3 means he doesn’t stand a chance at being competitive, though Alexander Rossi proved in 2016 that rookies coming from F1 can win the 500. Other former F1 drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Mario Andretti also have been successful at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Plus, Alonso is at the top of his game right now. Even though he hasn’t finished an F1 race this year, he’s frequently running within the points, which is somewhere his car has no business being.
While we don’t know if he will be able to take victory on his Indy 500 debut, we have no doubt he will get up to speed before May 28 and at least be competitive. And honestly, excluding all else, the opportunity to see one of F1’s best against the whole of IndyCar in and of itself is enough to validate all the attention Alonso’s been receiving.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@McLarenIndy