Three years at McLaren-Honda has been a waste of time for one of post-millennium Formula 1’s greatest drivers. A Fernando Alonso IndyCar switch may seem like a considerable downgrade, but the fact is that for 2018 at least, he would have a significantly better chance of winning than he would in F1.
It was clear at this year’s Indianapolis 500 – Alonso’s very first IndyCar race and his first on an oval in any shape or form, that Alonso would have little issue adapting to the series’ many quirks.
Restricted F1 options
Alonso’s in a tricky situation in F1 right now as he seeks an elusive third world championship. It is clear that only those who are factory teams, or Red Bull have any chance of winning in the current era.
Alonso will not be moving to Red Bull for 2018 as he simply does not fit into their philosophy of promoting from within.
There might be a seat at current champions Mercedes, but it would be incredibly harsh on Valtteri Bottas to not renew his contract after an impressive first part-season. It would also line Alonso up against Lewis Hamilton once again, and Alonso is all too aware of how impressive the three-time champion is.
Ferrari would appear set to retain their current line-up of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen, although both are yet to be confirmed for the future. The wounds from Alonso’s time at Ferrari between 2010 and 2014 may still very much be open. It simply seems unlikely that Ferrari would change from what they have right now, unless Vettel pulls a shock retirement at the end of the season in the event that a fifth title is won.
The only other factory team on the grid is Renault. The team is making sharp progress up the field, but failing to secure their big targets over the winter except for Nico Hulkenberg should raise some alarm bells with Alonso. While improvements are being made, it still seems highly unlikely that wins will come along next year, or maybe even the year after.
That leaves staying at McLaren as the only realistic option on the grid. McLaren is not going to win in 2018 unless Honda gets its act together, and that is only if McLaren is still running Honda power. If rumours that McLaren is returning to Mercedes power turn out to be true, then it seems highly unlikely that they will have the same software and hardware as the factory team. So, wins in 2018 would be unlikely even then.
Alonso’s best chance is in IndyCar
Sure, Alonso’s maiden race in IndyCar was massively impressive. But there was certainly room for improvement. But that is the sort of thing which comes with experience.
2018 will be a year of change with an all-new aerokit being introduced. In a lot of ways every team will be starting from the same point, so if any year is a good year to join the series with a brand new team, 2018 would be it.
McLaren has not ruled out a full-time switch to the series to 2018, but it seems unlikely at this time. However, should it happen, there is no reason why Alonso could not run with the team there.
Yet there is no reason why Alonso could not go into team ownership himself. He is a wealthy man, and running one (or maybe two) cars would not be out of his budget. The popularity he brought to the series for the one race he did could translate into season-long interest, and finding sponsors would therefore not exactly be challenging.
Alonso could also bring in a team-mate should he want one to help development with car setup. Some very solid drivers such as Oriol Servia, Sage Karam or even Juan Pablo Montoya could well be options for a potential team-mate for Alonso at his own team.
And at his own team, Alonso can do things how he likes. There would be no issue with team bosses as he would be the boss. It would produce an environment in which the Spaniard can guarantee everything is centralised around him.
Even if Alonso does not like the concept of team ownership, any of IndyCar’s juggernaut teams would surely be happy to take him on, if he is willing to drive for little money compared to what he is on currently. These three teams – Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, have won the championship every year and many of the Indy 500s since 2003 and would certainly provide the best opportunities for a lot of race victories and a title challenge, as well as a strong shot at the 500.
Any other options?
Alonso’s options, otherwise, appear to be very limited. There is obvious interest from Alonso regarding Le Mans, but it appears unclear where he would fit within what is currently five competitive LMP1 seats. The uncertainty surrounding the class may put Alonso off for the time being.
An IndyCar series championship crown would be a fine addition to any driver’s CV. It gives the impression of versatility given the diverse nature of the circuits visited. To be championship material in the current era, strong and consistent performances are often required at all of the types of circuit.
Nigel Mansell’s CART crown in his rookie season in 1993 did him no harm whatsoever. Similarly, a championship at this level, while not the coveted third world championship Alonso so desperately craves, would be better than trundling around in F1’s midfield, should he deliver a championship Stateside.
Who knows? Maybe a year away from F1 will give Alonso more opportunities to find a top seat there or in the World Endurance Championship for 2019. And why not just go for the Triple Crown (Le Mans, Indianapolis and Monaco) when a unique triple crown of championships (IndyCar, F1 and WEC) is achievable? If anybody can do something of such magnitude, Alonso certainly is able to.