Fernando Alonso didn’t see the checkered flag, but that doesn’t mean his first Indianapolis 500 was a failure.
When Alonso announced he would race in the Indy 500, he made it clear he intended to show he could compete with the best drivers, in one of the best series, on one of the best tracks in the world. And in that respect, Sunday’s race went better than he could’ve hoped, despite his car blowing engine with 20 laps.
After a relatively cautious start to the 500-mile event, Alonso quickly began working is way to the front of the field. Although nobody doubts the Spaniard’s talents as a driver, his charge through the pack was extremely impressive given Sunday marked his oval racing debut.
Alonso picked his moves carefully as to avoid any unnecessary risks, ultimately making his way to P1 and leading 26 laps.
For perspective, that’s more laps than either Jacques Villeneuve or Graham Hill — both of whom won the Formula One world championship and Indy 500 — led in their careers on the 2 1/2-mile oval, according to Mobil 1 The Grid. In having such a strong maiden outing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Alonso proved to both himself and everyone else that he has a realistic chance of succeeding Hill as only the second triple crown winner.
What’s more, Alonso’s Indy entry, and the month-long buildup thereto, had an impact on the world of motorsport that arguably was bigger than he’d expected.
The most noticeable things it accomplished was to introduce many F1 followers to the Indy 500, and expose American race fans to F1. But he also accomplished something that might not have been so obvious.
By stepping out of the bubble, and into the very open world of IndyCar, Alonso gave people the opportunity to see an F1 driver in ways they hardly ever do.
Unlike in F1, Alonso didn’t always have a public relations representative tailing him in Speedway, Ind., to ensure he didn’t say anything too crazy. During his first test at IMS, for example, fans got to see him react to the car and track in real-time as soon as he stepped out of the car. As a result, we got to see the joy on a world-class competitor’s face as he took on a new challenge.
That’s a rarity nowadays in F1.
Too often, athletes get frustrated with the situation they’re in, and no longer find enjoyment in their sport. That certainly was the case for Alonso before May, but not anymore. Taking a step away from F1 has brought back his smile, and put his passion for racing on full display.
The 35-year-old driver’s race admittedly ended in a cloud of smoke, but his Indy 500 as a whole was far from a failure.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images