American race fans have been buzzing for nearly a month about Fernando Alonso’s entry in the Indianapolis 500. And many have wondered whether the one-off drive might prompt Alonso to ditch Formula One and pursue a full-time race seat in IndyCar.
Alonso’s frustration over McLaren-Honda’s situation essentially has reached a tipping point, and with his contract set to expire at the end of 2017, he’s in the perfect position to jump ship and join a new series. Although his Indy 500 bid makes IndyCar the category he’d most likely end up in if he were to do so, chances are he won’t be racing stateside in 2018.
The reason is that, unlike last year, a lot of F1 teams could have seats that need filling at the end of this season. Some of them have already confirmed Alonso is on their shortlists. One of the biggest decisions a team recently made regarding its driver pairing was made with the Spaniard in mind: When Mercedes-AMG Petronas signed Valtteri Bottas ahead of 2017, it only offered him a one-year deal, even though team boss Toto Wolff repeatedly has vouched for the Finn’s abilities.
The reason? Mercedes doesn’t want its hands tied should Alonso become available.
Many within the sport also are suggesting Alonso could come back to Scuderia Ferrari, though he also has been linked to a return to Renault Sport F1 Team, with which he won his two world championships. Both are plausible, as Kimi Raikkonen’s contract with Ferrari expires this year, and Renault wouldn’t think twice about signing Alonso instead of re-signing Jolyon Palmer.
Alonso faced questions about many of these rumors during the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix, as speculation over his potential switch to IndyCar caused silly season to start earlier than usual. While the 35-year-old was careful with his word choice when responding, he did make clear his desire to race in F1 next year.
Although he’s taking his Indy 500 attempt extremely seriously, and clearly enjoys the IndyCar atmosphere, we’re not surprised he isn’t considering a full-time campaign in the series. Winning the 500 would put Alonso one step closer to claiming the triple crown, which he views as the way to prove he’s the best driver in the world, whereas IndyCar titles do nothing to further that goal.
Unlike some people, Alonso doesn’t live solely inside the F1 bubble, and instead has a more big-picture view of motorsport. He looks at himself as a racer, not just an F1 pilot. As a result, McLaren’s lack of competitiveness caused him to seek out a new way to showcasing himself as a racer, while having F1 remain his primary focus.
Alonso has said he wants to remain in F1 only if he can compete for world championships, an opportunity the McLaren-Honda project was supposed to afford him starting in 2017. So, while there’s no guarantee he will be back with the Woking, U.K.-based outfit next year, it’s seemingly a certainty he will be inside the cockpit of a Grand Prix car.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images