Feature: Why Fernando Alonso's Indianapolis adventure must continue
"If it's not enough and we are fourth of six, it's what we deserve," were the words of McLaren's Fernando Alonso after the first day of qualifying. The Spaniard was left 31st in the field and on the threshold of being bumped out of the Indianapolis 500. After Sunday's one-shot shootout to secure a place on the 11th and final row of the grid... The shocking moment came to pass. Alonso failed to qualify for 'The Greatest Spectacle In Racing'.
Such an event felt unthinkable leading up to qualifying. But in the aftermath, a catalog of major failures within the team was revealed. It perhaps would have been both a miracle and PR nightmare to have been in the field of 33 drivers, given the level of competition involved. Alonso would likely not have won from the final row on the grid.
McLaren and Alonso, supposedly on the Spaniard’s behest, quickly ruled out the notion of buying a ride, believing – correctly – they had not earned the right to be in the field. No-one is bigger than the show, and the show went on – albeit without its biggest star.
What should Alonso's next move be upon a possible return to the Brickyard to complete the elusive triple crown?
Alonso did say he would be happy to return to race again at Indianapolis but remained reluctant to apply a timeframe.
Age is not a determining factor when it comes to racing in the Indianapolis 500 as Mario Andretti once proved. The US racing legend graced the prestigious event 28 times from 1965 to 1994 where he made his final appearance aged 54; the only year he missed the race was in 1979.
Motorsport Week delves into the few ways in which Alonso could return to the Brickyard or indeed the IndyCar series in the future.
Stick with a Twist
McLaren made a late call to run the 2019 Indianapolis 500 when they announced their plans just six months before the race itself. This left very little time to get the project off the ground and moving in the right direction, and it ultimately contributed to its qualifying downfall.
But, what if McLaren decided to run a full season campaign with Alonso at the wheel?
This has many benefits for them in the long-term as it would give McLaren the chance to forge better relationships with other teams in the IndyCar paddock and integrate themselves within the series - should they wish to go down this road.
Alonso will also benefit by keeping himself race sharp. He would be able to drive in a relaxed atmosphere compared to his days in Formula 1 and race without a sense of pressure on his shoulders; his goal is to win the Indy 500 after all. So giving his all around the streets of Long Beach or attempting other ovals like Texas or Pocono would be a joy to behold.
Also, McLaren would have the bigger benefit of being able to get into a better technical partnership with another team in the paddock after the tricky partnership with Carlin. Perhaps a technical partnership with the oval specialists Ed Carpenter Racing or even the mighty Team Penske.
Would ‘The Captain’ like to rekindle that relationship with the British outfit for a sense of nostalgia? Both sides would benefit, with McLaren getting technical help from arguably one of the best teams in the field as well as Penske getting the PR glory for turning around McLaren's fortunes whilst enjoying a successful tie-up.
There is also another option on the cards...
Alonso always has another way of getting to an Indy 500 win and that's by cutting ties with McLaren once and for all and going it alone into the world of IndyCar. But where would be the best place to go?
The first place which would be on the lips of anyone reading this would be Team Penske. It's no secret Penske has one of the best stables in the IndyCar paddock and an impeccable record at the Brickyard with an astonishing 18 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, including the last two races. But would 'The Captain' be willing to take on Alonso just for the challenge of winning that coveted race? That's a tough question. Penske, clearly, does not need him. Would it want him?
For the past two seasons, Helio Castroneves has occupied the fourth seat in the #3 Pennzoil-sponsored car for the Indy 500 as he searched for his fourth win to go level with his close friend and mentor Rick Mears. But would Penske stop that from happening to get Alonso in the seat for the race? It's a distinct possibility and it has many benefits, which if they fail don't come back on Roger Penske himself.
Should Alonso be triumphant in a Penske to yet another victory the rewards in PR would be immeasurable. Fernando Alonso completing the 'Triple Crown' with the team would be beneficial for both parties.
But it would all come down to Penske dropping one of his famous sons in order to do so. Would he? That's a tough question.
ECR would be another option for Alonso, but also one he could utilise for a full season should he wish to do so. How? He could stump up the money for a fourth car at the race, (or third for a full season as Carpenter himself sticks to ovals) perhaps with a brightly-liveried Kimoa-sponsored car and make the most of the skills of a team and driver who are oval specialists. ECR showcased that specialty after qualifying 2-3-4 for this year's event.
But on the other foot, would the Indiana-born driver who has four pole-positions for the race, but yet to win it - Would he help Alonso? There's a strong question mark over that.
Some would be saying why isn't Chip-Ganassi being mooted as a possible option because they are only a two-car team. The issue lies within Toyko, Japan and the relationship with Honda. The tumultuous relationship between Alonso and Honda was decimated after their time together in Formula 1 and McLaren, it's hard to see the Japanese manufacturer allowing the Spaniard in a car bearing their name.
Whatever happens for Fernando Alonso, he is too much of a determined character to let the events of this attempt hold him back. His goal of completing the 'triple crown' in the modern age is something he is clearly dedicated on doing.
But the Indy 500 will always have an element of luck attached to it, many drivers can attest to this. JR.Hildebrand was on course for the win in 2011, but attempting to lap Charlie Kimball on the final in Turn 4 proved costly as he crashed into the outside wall.
Marco Andretti lost out to Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 in the final 400 feet and has yet to come close since, while Grandfather Mario, as mentioned earlier, took part in 28 Indy 500s, but only ever won on the one occasion, in 1969.
Alonso has many more chances to win the race, but must give himself the best opportunity to do so as early as possible for the best odds of success. The fairytale can't and shouldn't end here.