Fernando Alonso’s announcement on Tuesday that he was done with Formula 1 could be the biggest thing to happen to IndyCar racing since Nigel Mansell turned his back on F1 in 1993 to come to CART.
If Alonso becomes a full-time IndyCar driver in 2019, overall interest will surely skyrocket – not to mention national and international media coverage. The good thing is even though he won’t be in F1 with McLaren, there’s still a strong desire to keep him in the family by way of IndyCar.
“I wouldn’t want to put odds on the likelihood of McLaren and Fernando joining IndyCar,” McLaren’s Zak Brown told RACER. “IndyCar has been under review for some time. We like IndyCar, and Fernando has a desire to win the triple crown, and has shown interest in competing in the series. Right now, I think he’s taking a moment to reflect on his brilliant F1 career and what he would like to do moving forward.
“Right now, we are laser-focused on Formula 1 and getting our team back to being competitive. We’ve made a lot of changes to our Formula 1 team and are still on summer break, so once we get back to racing and we are a little further developed on our F1 plans, we will turn our attention to making a decision on IndyCar.”
The Spaniard will have a few fans in the IndyCar paddock if a deal comes together.
“He [Alonso] is a pure racer, obviously, and I think he’s coming this way for sure,” said IndyCar’s most popular driver Tony Kannan, who bonded with Alonso at Le Mans this year as they discussed how much the Spaniard enjoyed his Indy 500 experience in 2017.
“I’m sure he’s going to do the Indy 500, and does he want to do the whole championship as well? I hope so. It would be great for our series. Just remember the buzz when Mansell came over.
“As a driver, I want him [Alonso] to be happy. I’ve been in places when you’re not happy; it’s no fun and he doesn’t need the money.”
Former Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was teammates with Alonso in 2017 and would certainly support his return.
“Yeah, I’d welcome him, no doubt. We worked well together,” he said. “I have no idea where this whole thing is going right now, and I don’t know where McLaren stands right now. I don’t know how it relates to Andretti. There’s a lot of speculation at the moment.”
Yet there is no speculating that McLaren boss Zak Brown has been talking to Michael Andretti for several months about running Alonso in 2019, and Andretti told RACER last month at Mid-Ohio that the two-time world champion was only interested in “running the full season, not picking and choosing.”
Brown also told RACER last week he was taking the current F1 break to try and sort things out, and IndyCar was on his list. Andretti was traveling Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment.
But there could be one major hang-up. Honda Japan is reportedly not pleased with the criticism of its F1 engine that McLaren dished out in 2016 and 2017, and was not keen to offer any financial support or engines.
Andretti is one of Honda’s big guns – they’ve won seven of the last 10 Indy 500s – they’re under contract for at least one more year, and its unlikely Honda would let him out of his deal.
Yet Brown met with Chevrolet at Detroit, so what would prevent McLaren and Andretti from making a deal with Chevrolet and running a separate team?
“Of course we talked to Zak at Detroit, but I have nothing to confirm or announce right now,” Jim Campbell, GM’s VP of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports told RACER.
“Alonso would be a huge asset to the IndyCar Series, obviously. He lifted the sport up like I’ve never seen when he came here in 2017. But I don’t care which engine he uses, if he came to IndyCar, we’d all be thrilled.”
As RACER has previously confirmed, Andretti is open to expanding, and it’s rumored that Mike Harding Racing could be a satellite team as a Chevy connection alongside McLaren/Andretti.
“We could do as many as six [cars],” said Andretti. Would a satellite program to accommodate McLaren be in the works? “We’ll see.”
Another logical Bowtie connection could be Roger Penske, but The Captain responded to a text Tuesday inquiring about Alonso: “Not interested at this time.”
Chip Ganassi, who pretty much let it be known Tuesday he was looking to upgrade the No.10 car next year after re-signing Scott Dixon, is likely a long shot.
“Well, I don’t know, Alonso’s got my number so tell him to feel free to call me,” said Ganassi on Tuesday when asked if Alonso was on his radar. “But I’m not sure McLaren and Honda are still on good terms, so that would eliminate me.”
Prior to Alonso’s revelation, and on the topic of possible moves for next season, Dixon told RACER’s Marshall Pruett on Monday: “The team has some exciting things coming. I’m not sure on the timelines and mostly its just personnel. That’s not been my decision; it’s something they’ve known for a while that they feel like they can improve on. And not just in IndyCar. It’s across the board with the Cup sides and GTs. If I wasn’t excited, I wouldn’t be with the team. I’m excited for what they have coming, for the plans they have in the near future, but also the success the team is known well for.”
The underlying story is that Alonso is a big fan of IndyCar, loved his initial oval-track experience and was over-the-moon to be competitive again where he had a damn good shot at winning Indianapolis as a rookie.
“I still smile every time I think of what Fernando said to me after Monaco this year,” said veteran F1 writer Nigel Roebuck.
“He said ‘I could have been in Indy instead of here.’ Then he did a quick press conference and headed off to his hotel room ‘to go watch a real race [Indy].’”
Alonso has a commitment for the three WEC Super Season races with Toyota in 2019, but only one or two would conflict with his IndyCar schedule.