I won’t be one of those people heaping scorn on McLaren’s decision to allow Fernando Alonso to race in the Indy 500. I, too, feel it is great for Indycar and perhaps a deal-sweetener for Alonso to extend his contract with the team beyond 2017. I also appreciate the nostalgia of it as the best drivers used to race in the best and biggest races across racing series disciplines.
If you parse the words from Alonso and McLaren, you could, ostensibly, start connecting dots for McLaren’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in at least the GT class and perhaps more. Alonso wants to win Indy and win Le Mans and if McLaren are committed to doing that, then you can see where this is leading.
Another reason to suspect a McLaren WEC effort? Current CEO Zak Brown has a real penchant for endurance racing having been involved in United Autosport team in GT racing and he has strong roots in that series as well as Indycar. This makes sense from a marketing standpoint and could make sense from a contract negotiation for Alonso as well.
The only concern I have would be the same that some team principles have offered; Indycar is not F1 and to risk a driving talent like Alonso is a big decision. It’s a two-way street, of course, as Alonso may want this option but as, arguably, one of the best drivers on the grid, you have an asset that is incredibly valuable to your F1 program and to risk it would take some serious confidence.
Andretti Autosport know what they’re doing and they know how to set up a car and how best to coach Alonso on driving ovals at 220mph but I can’t help but recall the two incidents that he’s had already causing concussion and whenever you start messing with the melon, things aren’t good.
A seemingly harmless clouting of the wall down the right-hand side of your car can create serious lateral G-forces and heaven forbid something more violent would happen. Renault learned this lesson the hard way when their star F1 driver’s career was immediately stopped do to a rallying incident that nearly cost Robert Kubica his hand…liberally.
These are the risks. The team and Alonso have certainly discussed it and the reality of what could happen and if it is worth the risk. On the other side of this argument, what options does Alonso really have in F1? He’s been to Ferrari, that didn’t work out. Mercedes isn’t going to be keen to have him and re-create the intra-team drama he shared with Lewis Hamilton back in the day. I still think Renault is an interesting option but they are slightly ahead of McLaren Honda at this point and it will take time…time he may feel he doesn’t have.
Let’s hope everything goes well. The last time another F1 driver showed up at the Indy 500, he won the 100th running and this time, he’ll have a new teammate in the form of Fernando Alonso.