Alonso-Mania Is In Full Swing

Obviously everyone is concerned with the health and well-being of driver Robert Wickens. He had spinal surgery Monday night and had his broken limbs repaired as well. With so little information available and with this still an ongoing story, I chose to write about something a little more upbeat for today to divert everyone’s attention just for a few moments. Please keep Robert Wickens in your prayers, along with his friends and family. He has a long road ahead of him.

With new developments seemingly every day, Alonso-mania seems to be in full-swing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s almost as if the racing and the championship has taken a back seat to the prospect that Fernando Alonso will join the series in some aspect for the 2019 season.

Here’s what we know; Fernando Alonso confirmed last week that he will not be racing in Formula One during the 2019 season. While many say that he has retired, he simply said he would not race in F1 in 2019. There’s a difference. The two-time World Champion has also been scheduled for an IndyCar test at Barber Motorsports Park on Sep 5, using a Honda-powered car. That is all we know. Anything else from here on out in this post is nothing but speculation.

But there is a big difference in connecting some dots and wildly speculating what might happen.

I think it’s safe to say that at the very least, Fernando Alonso will run in the 2019 Indianapolis 500. He has said repeatedly that he wants to win what he sees as the Triple Crown of Racing – Le Mans, Monaco and Indianapolis. He crossed Monaco off the list, when he won it for the first time in 2006. Earlier this summer, he drove the winning car at Le Mans. All that is left is the Indianapolis 500, in which he drove in 2017. Alonso qualified fifth, was a contender all day and led a total of twenty-seven laps before he became one of many Honda casualties that day at the beginning of Lap 180.

I think it’s also a safe bet that Alonso will run in some of the other IndyCar races in 2019. But those that say he will run the entire schedule are guilty of wishful thinking. That’s not to say he won’t – but no one really knows. I’m not even sure that Fernando Alonso himself knows for certain.

When Alonso cryptically tweeted out “14-8”, it was speculated he was pointing to some type of announcement that would be coming on August 14. We now know that the speculation was correct. That was the day he announced he would not be racing in Formula One in 2019.

Many fans and journalists speculated further that Alonso would also be announcing that he would be racing in IndyCar in 2019 with McLaren. Even some connected with the series allowed their wishful thinking to get the best of them, as they teased us with hopeful posts on social media. By last Monday night, I was thinking that it’s going to look bad if the Alonso announcement tells us he’s doing something other than IndyCar.

Well, things are pointing towards Alonso running one or more IndyCar races – but everyone might want to pump the brakes just a little bit if they think they may be seeing Fernando Alonso at Iowa or Belle Isle next season. They may, but then again – they may not.

One other thing we know is that if Alonso runs in IndyCar through any association with McLaren – it won’t be with a Honda engine. There are strained relations between Honda and McLaren after their recent struggles together in Formula One. Robin Miller and others have reported that McLaren would have to run a Chevrolet if they are to be involved in the series. Not only is there bad blood between Honda and McLaren, but Honda is near full-capacity for supplying engines to the series. Chevy is not.

There are still lots and lots of questions regarding Fernando Alonso. Will he come to IndyCar? Will he run the full season? Will he only run the Indianapolis 500? Will he pick and choose which races he wants to run in?

Last week on Trackside, Curt Cavin threw out an interesting scenario that made a lot of sense. With it becoming apparent that McLaren would have to partner with a Chevy team – he suggested that McLaren and Alonso might partner with Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR). Other than Team Penske, they are currently the most successful Chevy team in the series. Alonso could partner with Ed in the No.20 car and run the non-ovals, while Ed runs the ovals; which is the same arrangement that Carpenter has had with drivers for several years. Then Alonso could run the third car at Indianapolis.

Cavin pointed out that they were able to keep a handle on the added attention that Danica Patrick brought to the team this past May. He also pointed out that ECR always has fast cars at Indianapolis, so this arrangement would make a lot of sense. Does that mean it will happen? Of course not. It’s just one of the many scenarios that have been batted back and forth regarding potential landing spots for Alonso.

But there is one question out there that most already seem to know the answer to – what would Fernando Alonso’s presence do to the image of IndyCar? That’s simple – a lot.

I was around when Nigel Mansell made the jump to CART in 1993, after winning the World Championship with Williams in 1992.Not only did Mansell’s presence bring worldwide attention to Indy car racing, it brought instant credibility to the series. Some argue that it would have helped to show the difficulty of the series had he not won his very first race and then won the championship in his very first season.

That may be true, but it sure brought the attention with Mansell competing for the championship. Of course by year two, Mansell had become disgruntled and finished a disappointing eighth in the championship as he became increasingly disengaged as the season wore on. The second half of the season produced only two Top-Ten finishes – a seventh at Mid-Ohio and an eighth place finish at Laguna Seca.

While Mansell went back to Formula One with a whimper in 1995, there is no denying the world-wide attention that he brought to CART in those two seasons.

I’m also old enough that I remember the British Invasion of the sixties. I was sitting in the stands when Jim Clark won the 1965 Indianapolis 500 in a Lotus. A Brit winning in a rear-engine car turned the US racing world on its ear. Such a turn of events was not even considered possible just five years earlier. It opened the door for other Formula one regulars to try their hand at Indianapolis-style racing. Soon, the likes of Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Mike Spence, Jochen Rindt and Denis Hulme all converged upon Indianapolis.

Fernando Alonso is not the reigning World Champion as Nigel Mansell was when he came, or only a few years removed from one as Graham Hill was. Nor does he have likely World Championships in his near future, as did Clark, Stewart, Hulme and Rindt. Alonso’s two World Championships were in 2005 and 2006. But the Spaniard is regarded by some as one of the greatest drivers ever in Formula One. That would put him in the rarified air of names like Ascari, Fangio, Clark, Hill, Stewart, Fittipaldi, Lauda, Piquet, Prost, Senna and Schumacher – all considered Formula One royalty.

Alonso has an air about him – a charisma that is hard to deny. I attended his introductory press conference to the IndyCar media the morning of the race at Barber Motorsports Park in April of 2017. He had the press eating out of the palm of his hand. He was captivating. The large assembly room was packed with domestic and foreign press. When Josef Newgarden addressed the media after winning the IndyCar race that same afternoon – the size of the crowd was about ten percent of what it had been just a few hours earlier for Alonso discussing his plans for Indianapolis. That’s how much interest Alonso will generate.

If social media stats count for anything to judge star-power, Josef Newgarden has roughly 67,000 followers on Twitter. James Hinchcliffe has approximately 150,000 followers, while Tony Kanaan has amassed 660,000 twitter followers over the years. I think most would agree that all three of those drivers are some of IndyCar’s biggest stars over the past several seasons. For comparison’s sake – Fernando Alonso has over 2.4 million Twitter followers. That’s how much attention Fernando Alonso could potentially bring to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered regarding Fernando Alonso’s racing future. Some speculate he may run the Indianapolis 500 and the World Endurance Championship may be his primary home. I think a lot rides on the test at Barber the week after Labor Day.

But one thing is certain – Alonso-mania is in full gear. I just hope it doesn’t detract from what is shaping up to be a very intriguing championship battle.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Alonso-Mania Is In Full Swing”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    From what I’ve read everyone is still waiting for the pieces to fall into place to make a full season happen, but it’s still TBD as to how that will happen and who they will partner with. The ECR tie-in is an interesting one that seems very logical since I could see Nando not being too interested in running the other ovals (especially after what happened Sunday in Pocono).

    Knowing how competitive he is, I think he will tire of WEC since he has no real competition and everything is being handed to him and Toyota on a platter. His 2018 Le Mans win will always have a huge, giant, massive asterisk next to it in my book, I’ve never seen a race so rigged to favor one team before.

    Not to nit-pick, but it’s “pump the brakes”, I feel like that should be correct on a motorsports blog. 🙂

    • Oops! Brain-fade on my part and I’ve corrected it. Thanks for being nit-picky. I’d hate for “pump the breaks” to sit out there all day, giving people the impression I’m dumber than I already am. – GP

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Alonso’s expected upcoming test at Portland would seem to indicate that he plans to race more than just the 500 next season. He will run a full season if that is what he wants; there seems to be little doubt that is what McLaren wants. I think the parties involved find a way to make it happen.

  3. If I may, here’s my speculation….Fernando will run the full season for Andretti Autosport. Marco and his race strategist Bryan Herta will be farmed out to the newly formed Andretti Handing wing on the Chevy side where they will team with Bryan’s son Colton next year. And of course I have no proof of this whatsoever! Haha.

  4. “Alonso-mania is in full gear. I just hope it doesn’t detract…” i think it will monopolize, maybe not detract, attention. Tiger Woods has done that for golf where the TV ratings are around 70% higher with him.

  5. […] I hate to say “I told you so” (OK…I don’t really hate it), but if you go back and read a post I wrote in August – I never thought he was going to do anything other than a few select races […]

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