Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
The checkers have been waved at Indianapolis. The milk and champagne bottles are empty. The photos were taken. Indycar’s season has moved on.
Formula 1 left Monaco, moved onto Canada and back across the Atlantic.
Open wheel racing marched past the magical last weekend in May and through the summer of 2017.
Fernando Alonso made a big splash in competing in his first Indy 500. The large media crush on the F1 star was expected and delivered.
He acquitted himself well and the natural question on so many minds is what about the future? Fernando, where will you commit to race in 2018 and beyond?
Formula 1 fans want him back. Indycar fans want him back.
Alonso showed his immense skill level at Indianapolis by dueling for the lead and win throughout most of the 500. Cracks in his talented armor widened right where he predicted- on rolling restarts- which are rare when competing for the World Championship.
“Maybe I’ll fall behind after 100 laps or whatever,” Alonso said three days ahead of the Indy 500. “The first couple of restarts I will learn. I will improve the mistakes that I will do. Hopefully the last couple of restarts I will be more experienced.”
“Obviously if I come back here (Indianapolis), at least I know how it is everything. It will not be the first time I do restarts, pit stops, all these kinds of things,” said Alonso.
He took the 500’s initial green in fifth position and at the completion of lap one, he had fallen to ninth. The two-time World Champ rose to third by lap 30 and then to the lead on lap 37.
The pattern continued throughout the afternoon with Alonso racing hard among the top-five, yet losing positions on restarts. He would battle back to lead and stay in contention near the front.
Alonso’s 500 came to an end with just over 50 miles remaining when his engine blew while running seventh. Honda’s stigma through the month of May was that they had plenty of speed but not the reliability. Alonso was plenty fast but was in street clothes before the checkered waved.
What’s next, Alonso?
“At some point of your career you need to keep growing and you need to improve yourself. I think I will finish this event a better driver, a more complete driver. In motorsport, Indy 500, Formula 1, and the 24 Hours of LeMans are the three big races in the world. Participate in those, maybe have success in those will put you in (a) different level of motorsport,” Alonso said.
“Any racing driver that succeeds in one series, like Formula 1, to come here (Indy) in a very different environment, against the best drivers in the world in oval racing… that’s important to come here, to learn from them- to be a better driver,” said Alonso.
“I’m not thinking too much on the future,” Alonso said. “You never can say ‘no’ to a certain thing but right now my only priority is Formula 1.
“I think the biggest thing now in Formula 1 for me this year, is next year what I will do.”
Alonso said his priority is “winning my third title in Formula 1.”
Competing at Indianapolis came at a cost. There is a yin to the yang and racing in the 500 meant passing on the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. However missing Formula 1’s marquis event did need seem to faze Alonso. Outward appearances reflected his anticipation of competing for a win in Indiana as opposed to fighting for a points-paying position on France’s Mediterranean coastline.
“I won two times there (Monaco) I won two world championships. To drive around Monaco for a sixth place, seventh place, even a fifth place…” said Alonso after the Indy 500 as his voice trailed off and he never completed the sentence but his sentiment was understood.
He scored his initial points for the 2017 World Championship with a ninth-place finish during F1’s round eight in Azerbaijan- nearly a month after Indianapolis. That fact seems to underline, bold, and italicize his post-500 competitive spirit comment.
Alonso said he would decide by September if he will return to McLaren for an F1 title run in 2018. He also hinted that a career shift to Indycar is not off the table either. His joy of competing in the Indy 500 was evident.
“I felt at home. I’m not American, but I felt really proud to race here,” Alonso said.
Years ago, NASCAR Modified and Xfinity Series winner Mike McLaughlin said that he would rather race competitively for a win in a street stock than run uncompetitive in the back of a superspeedway stock car race. Alonso’s demeanor suggested he may have felt something similar. He surely enjoyed his Indy experience and running in contention for the win.
Through no actual confirmation, I will say Alonso will be looking for a place he can race for wins in 2018 and American fans should smile at that possibility.
I asked several drivers what piece of advice they would tell an Indy rookie like Alonso. They all had a variation of a broader message but there was clearly one common coaching aspect to anyone attempting their first 500.
Rick Mears said, “Patience.”
James Hinchcliffe said, “Patience.”
Charlie Kimball said, “Patience.”
Spencer Pigot said, “Patience.”
Helio Castroneves said, “Patience.”
Sage Karem said, “Patience.”
Alonso suffered an additional engine failure in the Canadian Grand Prix, his first race back reunited with McLaren. He finally scored his first World Championship points of the year in Azerbaijan- eight rounds into the World Title fight.
Alonso needed patience to successfully drive in the Indianapolis 500. He will need even more to work through his immediate and long-term racing future.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://racersreunion.com/podcast-library . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.