Fernando Alonso’s announcement last week that he will compete in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was one of the most surprising and shocking announcements in the motors sports world in years.
The two-time Formula One champion saying he would bypass driving his McLaren-Honda at the Monaco Grand Prix to race in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for Andretti Autosport was like Nico Rosberg winning the 2016 F1 championship and retiring the next day at age 31. Or in 2006 when Juan Pablo Montoya left F1 shortly after he crashed in the first turn of the first lap in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to join NASCAR. It was a stunning move at that time because Montoya was the first driver to leave the high-tech world of F1 to switch to stock cars.
As the Formula One community arrived in Bahrain for last weekend’s grand prix, Alonso’s news drew interesting reactions from fellow F1 One competitors.
“I think, firstly, it’s great that a driver is able to do that. I think us drivers should be able to do more than one series. Obviously, there was a period in the past when there were drivers doing multiples series, so I think it’s pretty cool that he’s doing it,” said Lewis Hamilton of England, of Mercedes F1, three-time F1 champion and 54-time F1 race winner.
“I certainly wouldn’t miss Monaco because, for me, Monaco is my favorite weekend in the whole calendar, so I wouldn’t miss Monaco and normally you have that clash. But I’d like to do some other racing. I certainly have some interest in IndyCar. The Indy 500 is certainly one of the best races in the world, so I’d definitely want to do some,” said Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1, of Mexico.
Part of the triple crown
The Indianapolis 500 has been run 100 times. The 24 Hours of Le Mans has taken place 84 times. The Monaco Grand Prix has raced 63 times.
Seven-hundred and ninety-two drivers have strapped into a car on Race Day since 1911 to attempt to win the Indianapolis 500. At least that many drivers have raced on the public roads and long straights of Le Mans, France, with its fields of 50-plus sports cars. And hundreds of Formula One drivers have dared to race on the narrow, unforgiving streets of the principality of Monaco.
Yet just one driver has won all three – Graham Hill, who triumphed in 1966 as a rookie at Indianapolis, won Le Mans in 1972 with team-mate Henri Pescarolo and reigned five times on the streets of Monaco (1963-65, 1968-69).
Alonso wants to become the second person to scale auto racing’s highest peak.
He won the Monaco Grand Prix, which takes place in late May, in 2006 with Renault and in 2007 with McLaren. He has yet to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which takes place annually in mid-June.
So Alonso’s shocking decision to skip Monaco this year to compete in Indianapolis indicates his quest for the “triple crown” of global auto racing isn’t a lark. He is a throwback to a time when racing at Indianapolis, the uncompromising, walled streets of Monaco and the fast, fearsome La Sarthe road circuit at Le Mans were annual dates on the calendars of the best drivers in the world.
Growing specialization in racing over the last 40 years has prevented many drivers from attempting to wear the triple crown. So has the racing schedule, which usually sees Indianapolis and Monaco taking place on the same day. That’s the case again this year, which makes Alonso’s decision to miss the marquee race on the F1 calendar to race in the “500” even more powerful and resonant.
Another big challenge is the variety of the equipment and racing styles, as powering into Turn 1 at 230 mph in an Indy car at Indianapolis requires a different touch than dancing around Monaco’s serpentine streets in an F1 car and hurtling through the rainy night at 240 mph on the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans.
But Alonso is committed with a refreshing approach toward making history, knowing his immense talent behind the wheel must quickly adapt to a completely different style as he tackles his first Verizon IndyCar Series race and first career oval race on the fastest, most fearsome circle track in open-wheel racing.