Fernando Alonso, Andretti, 2017

Alonso’s overlooked remark which shows he’s serious about winning the Indy 500

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The disappointment of failing to even start the Russian Grand Prix was a reminder why Fernando Alonso has chosen to take on the Indianapolis 500 instead of the Monaco Grand Prix this year. Tomorrow he will have his first experience of lapping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an IndyCar.

As is always the case when a shock news story like this comes out of the blue, a tidal wave of coverage ensued. Largely lost amid the hype was the question of how much Alonso actually knows about this form of racing.

Fernando Alonso, Michael Andretti, Andretti, IndyCar, Barber Motorsports Park, 2017
Alonso has teamed up with Andretti for his Indy 500 bid
An IndyCar may be a high-performance single-seater much like an F1 car. But racing at average speeds of 370kph (230mph) on super-speedways is a highly specialised discipline, a world apart from what Alonso is used to. He knows this, and tomorrow’s test will be his first step towards mastering it.

But one quote from Alonso which received little attention revealed he’s also been paying attention to the subtleties of IndyCar racing and put serious though into how he’s going to win it.

“What is different is how we race on the track,” said Alonso in an interview at the Grand Prix of Alabama.

“[In Formula One] we don’t see our team mate in the first corner after the start different than any other driver. We consider him as an opponent.”

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“When we are on the track in Formula One, there is no help for each other. Here, if anyone needs anything in the last ten laps of the race and you have no options to win the race, you try to help your team mate win it. That’s something that is very good.”

Alonso has done his homework. He is going to the Indianapolis 500 with the Andretti team in an attempt to win the race as a rookie. And what he describes is exactly how former F1 driver Alexander Rossi scored his shock win in the race last year.

“If we run out on the back stretch, we’ll coast to start/finish…”

By its nature, oval racing tends to feature frequent caution periods. This shapes the teams’ strategies, as they can usually expect to be able to make a late pit stop under yellow flags and run flat-out until the end.

Alexander Rossi, Andretti, IndyCar, Indianapolis 500, 2016
Teamwork was key to Rossi’s Indy 500 win
But it doesn’t always work out that way. Last year Rossi won thanks to an audacious economy run. As the video above explains he covered the final 33 laps of green flag running without a pit stop, thanks in part to being able to save fuel by slipstreaming Andretti team mates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell.

As Alonso’s remarks show, this detail has clearly made an impression on him. He’s already considered how it will play a role in his Indianapolis 500 bid this weekend.

Past events have shown no driver on the grid is more alert than Alonso to the possibilities of using a team mate in order to help the team’s other car. The ‘Fernando is faster than you’ instruction to Felipe Massa when he and Alonso were team mates at Ferrari in 2010 is just the most obvious example.

He also tried to use Massa to help him win the title at the season finale. During another down-to-the-write title fight Massa inconveniently out-qualified Alonso, so the team incurred a needless penalty on his car to move Alonso forward one space. They even hatched a plan for Alonso to use Massa’s slipstream to improve his lap time in qualifying at Monza, which failed.

Another occasion when Alonso’s team mate was sacrificed to help him win is one of F1’s most notorious episodes. Alonso denied any involvement in it. Massa, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains unconvinced.

Of course there’s no reason to assume anything as extreme as some of these scenarios is going to happen. But it’s striking that Alonso has immediately picked up on this aspect of IndyCar tactics which is seen little outside of super-speedway races.

Fernando Alonso, Andretti, 2017
Alonso wants to get his hands on the Borg-Warner trophy
With Andretti, winners of two of the last three Indy 500s, Alonso can take maximum advantage of support from team mates. Their six-car squad is currently the largest on the Indianapolis 500 entry list. It includes past winners Rossi and Hunter-Reay plus ex-F1 driver Takuma Sato who came agonisingly close to victory in 2012.

Barring a shock result at his home grand prix next week, Alonso will have gone four years without a victory by the time he is stood at the Brickyard listening to Jim Cornelison belting out “Back Home in Indiana”. This may be his only chance to win anything for the forseeable future. Clearly he is not going to let any opportunity to win this race pass him by.

But it cuts both ways. Depending how the final stage of the race unfolds Alonso might just as easily be called on to help Rossi, Hunter-Reay or another of his five team mates win this time.

That could be a prudent long-term move if he’s going to return to Andretti for another shot at this leg of the ‘Triple Crown’. But Alonso isn’t planning on skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to help someone else win the Indianapolis 500.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 42 comments on “Alonso’s overlooked remark which shows he’s serious about winning the Indy 500”

    1. Imagine if Massa joined as Alonso’s teammate in Indycar…

      1. Imagine if Piquet Jr. joined as Alonso’s teammate in Indycar…

        1. @paulk you are a genius!

        2. @paulk I’m quite certain his life-long ban doesn’t count for the Indy 500, so be on the lookout for a certain mr. Briatore. And heck, maybe Bernie himself might bribe, I mean persuade with a couple of million, some privateers into helping as well.

          1. @addvariety Piquet Jnr never had a lifelong ban, his punishment was waived in exchange for his testimony. Briatore had a lifelong ban, but that was overturned in the courts.

            1. @keithcollantine I meant Flavio, although I was unaware of the fact that it was overturned. Which makes me think why we never see him anymore. Ah well, maybe it’s better this way.

      2. @mashiat

        Imagine if Massa joined as Alonso’s teammate in Indycar…

        No matter how hard I try, my imagination has no clue as to what would be particularly remarkable about that. All I can think of is Williams, who definitely wouldn’t be amused about losing their sole competitive driver. But that’s probably not what you were thinking.

        1. I think he’s referring to “[In Formula One] we don’t see our team mate in the first corner after the start different than any other driver. We consider him as an opponent.”

          Most drivers in F1 could say that and it’d be fair enough but Alonso? He had Massa as a number 2 driver for a few years and then had Piquet Jr as a team mate (we all know how that ended.) In the few races this year, we’ve already seen direct team orders called to switch positions on the podium at Mercedes!

          1. True but except for MS’s designer car as a result of his teammates’ being under contract to not compete, FA still had an opponent in FM and NPjr, as in, ‘all’ they had to do was a Bottas, Russia 2017, after being previously ordered. Ie. The drivers you refer to wrt FA were opponents at least for a time. And of course if you want to debate that indeed after a time they weren’t in reality ‘opponents,’ they were only one driver on the grid, and all others would be opponents through and through. FA will have several teammates at Indy.

    2. Imagine if Alonso’s car failed to start even at Indy …

      1. Came here for this.

        I’m pretty sure he would rage quit, drop the mic, and find a way into Red Bull Air Races or something.

        1. Hmmm…airplanes have to start too, so maybe a soap-box derby. Drop the plank, not the mic.

          1. Well.. hopefully there’s no Honda power in Red Bull Air races.

    3. David (@ringridder)
      2nd May 2017, 12:54

      “Past events have shown no driver on the grid is more alert than Alonso to the possibilities of using a team mate in order to help the team’s other car.”

      Good job avoiding mentioning Crashgate…

      1. read again @ringridder, it’s there :p

    4. Given the impressive performance of Bottas at the weekend, it looks even more unlikely that we will see Alonso in a Merc any time soon. This is his big chance.

      1. don’t forget that if Bottas remains this impressive then the other car might be available next year ;)

        1. Agreed!

    5. Barring a shock result at his home grand prix next week, Alonso will have gone three years without a victory

      How is it 3 years? He won something in 2014?

      1. No. In 2014, Red Bull (Danny Ric) won 3 races, and the Mercedes won everything else.

      2. Sorry have corrected that. Man, four years…

    6. It’s funny… I only loosely follow Indycar as it’s behind a separate paywall to F1 but whilst I always enjoy the watching the parade of F1 cars around Monaco, I am so excited for the Indy 500.

      F1 races feel like normal football league matches to me – it’s important to score points but individually, each race isn’t that important… This Indy 500 feels like a World Cup final.

      1. Exactly! It’s like an entire championship in itself. Just like Le Mans 24. Two greatest motorsport events in the world.

      2. You’re going to find out why IndyCar is the most exciting racing on earth. Live streaming on Alono’s test Wednesday will be real interesting.

        1. Don’t get me wrong – I used to love Indycar. I lived in Michigan and went to several races at Belle Isle and Toronto. It’s a whole level up from F1 in terms of the fan experience. It actually feels like the sport wants you to be there watching as opposed to F1 where you are seen as a necessary evil.

          Ever since F1 went to one paywall and Indycar went to another, I stopped paying for either. I would absolutely love to pay to watch motorsport in good quality but every package seems to involve paying hundreds a year for football, football, football, football and more football. I have no interest in paying money to watch football on TV….

          It feels like wanting to buy a bottle of water and being told I have to buy the entire shop to get it.

    7. I find it incredibly ironic that the same Fernando Alonso that complained about saving tyres and fuel, and strategy in general, is about to race in the mecca of strategy. You can see in that video how desperate everyone is about saving fuel.

      In the end, maybe the Honda F1 experience gave Alonso a lot of knowledge in that respect…

      IndyCar and oval racing in general is sooo sooo far Alonso’s comfort zone that’s it’s almost hillarious to even think about. I’m so glad he’s taking the opportunity. And he seems very serious about competing until finally winning it… this doesn’t seem like a one-off!

      1. What a FANTASTIC team effort that win! I had not watched it. If only all races were broadcasted like that…

      2. In fairness, all drivers were complaining about the combined need to conserve everything in F1 prior to this year, to the detriment of being able to enthrall fans, lap quickly, race closely, or have any fun, due to being unable to push themselves or their car’s anywhere near any kind of limits.

        At the Indy 500 it certainly doesn’t always come down to a fuel saving game, as pointed out in the article above. There is usually a late enough caution period that sees the cars able to come in for fuel and tires and finish the race topped up in both regards. Mind you even with a late caution some teams/drivers might opt to stay out and gain track position by not pitting when others are, and risk that they’ll have enough fuel and tire performance left at the end to prevail.

        As to FA returning to try the Indy 500 again? Yeah I can see that, eventually, but I envision this opportunity has only come about in large part to the Mac and Honda and Andretti tie-in, and assuming FA will not be at McHonda next year, I can’t see him once again able to take the time for an Indy effort with a team until he is finally out of F1.

      3. Totally agree. To me this is no longer racing.. your pit guy telling you to coast and clutch and when to use the fuel and when to save.. horrible, amazing they can fill the stands with this kinda of stuff.

        1. He was out of fuel! What else is he supposed to do?

          Watch the race. You’ll see why it is the largest single day sporting event, and most exciting racing on earth.

        2. You have to remember that Rossi’s strategy (arrived at late in the race) was to run 33 laps on 31 laps of fuel. The pit lane delta is fairly high for IndyCar, since the stops tend to be 7-9 seconds, so a skipped pit stop is absolutely massive in terms of time at a track where the gap between the top two is frequently less than a second.

          It was an audacious gamble– a late caution would have torpedoed his run.

          Having said that, the Grand Prix of Alabama over the last couple years has turned into one of my favorite race events.

          1. Have to agree about GP of AL. Who would have thought that a road circuit primarily designed for motorcycles (that everyone thought overtaking would be impossible), creates such good racing? The Barber Museum is fantastic also!

            Spot on re: Rossi’s strategy also. The fact that he made it to the end on the fuel he had left was remarkable.

        3. Racerdude7730
          2nd May 2017, 20:53

          So happy you see things how they really are. There has always been fuel and tire management. We just didn’t know or hear about it!

          1. Yeah but who was doing that management back in the day the pitwall or the driver? In Indy series I think the ‘outside of the car’ instruction is over the top.

    8. Regarding Crashgate, I’ve always assumed that Alonso had to have known, but I read an interesting theory recently:

      The theory was that Fernando had a performance exit clause in his contract with Renault (you can leave after ‘x’ time, if the team doesn’t reach ‘y’ performance). Flavio didn’t want Fernando to leave Renault, so he concocted crashgate, so Fernando would win in an uncompetitive car, and be contractually bound to stay with Renault for another year.

      This seems really far-fetched, but again, it’s Flavio we’re talking about. I’m guessing we’ll never know the truth. I personally still think Fernando knew, or at least had a hunch of what was happening, but interesting, nonetheless.

      I also think Fernando is someone calculative enough to get a handle on Indy 500 strategies. It will certainly be thrilling to watch him try to win, and hopefully, he’ll do well.

      1. @tim-m The irony of that of course being that he then won the very next race in Fuji on merit..

        1. @fastiesty Oh, that wasn’t lost on me either!

      2. Possible.

        The Renault was clearly competitive at the Singapore GP in 08, but they stuffed up qualifying due to a fuel pump issue.

        I think Fernando could have still had a decent result, maybe even the win, if he his car didnt crap out in qualy.

        1. Pink Peril
          3rd May 2017, 6:37

          I don’t think he knew beforehand, but there is little doubt in my mind he figured it out pretty quickly afterwards. His visit to the podium lacked the normal exuberance you’d expect to see if you’d just won an F1 race (Kimi excepted). Alonso has certainly not been shy in wanting things arranged to his advantage in the past but its always been more or less within the rules. That’s why I don’t believe he knew about it beforehand, or if he did, he didn’t condone it.

    9. If Alonso finishes in the top six it will be very impressive. Like everyone else, he’s got a 33:1 chance to win the 500, but lots of good luck needs to happen for a win.

    10. He also tried to use Massa to help him win the title at the season finale. During another down-to-the-write title fight Massa inconveniently out-qualified Alonso, so the team incurred a needless penalty on his car to move Alonso forward one space. They even hatched a plan for Alonso to use Massa’s slipstream to improve his lap time in qualifying at Monza, which failed.

      Run of the mill stuff, it’s been like that in F1 for as long as I remember, don’t make it sound like Alonso is a monster.

      1. Espeically up against incidents like when Ferrari used Massa to pretend that Alonso’s air wake had impeded him in qualifying to help Michael Schumacher.
        Alonso’s famous quote ‘F1 is no longer a sport’

        I also love the way Piquet crashing into tyres to help Alonso move up the grid has always seemed more controversial than Schumacher crashing into opponents to stop them or parking on the corner at Monaco.

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