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I won’t be one of those people heaping scorn on McLaren’s decision to allow Fernando Alonso to race in the Indy 500. I, too, feel it is great for Indycar and perhaps a deal-sweetener for Alonso to extend his contract with the team beyond 2017. I also appreciate the nostalgia of it as the best drivers used to race in the best and biggest races across racing series disciplines.

If you parse the words from Alonso and McLaren, you could, ostensibly, start connecting dots for McLaren’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in at least the GT class and perhaps more. Alonso wants to win Indy and win Le Mans and if McLaren are committed to doing that, then you can see where this is leading.

Another reason to suspect a McLaren WEC effort? Current CEO Zak Brown has a real penchant for endurance racing having been involved in United Autosport team in GT racing and he has strong roots in that series as well as Indycar. This makes sense from a marketing standpoint and could make sense from a contract negotiation for Alonso as well.

The only concern I have would be the same that some team principles have offered; Indycar is not F1 and to risk a driving talent like Alonso is a big decision. It’s a two-way street, of course, as Alonso may want this option but as, arguably, one of the best drivers on the grid, you have an asset that is incredibly valuable to your F1 program and to risk it would take some serious confidence.

Andretti Autosport know what they’re doing and they know how to set up a car and how best to coach Alonso on driving ovals at 220mph but I can’t help but recall the two incidents that he’s had already causing concussion and whenever you start messing with the melon, things aren’t good.

A seemingly harmless clouting of the wall down the right-hand side of your car can create serious lateral G-forces and heaven forbid something more violent would happen. Renault learned this lesson the hard way when their star F1 driver’s career was immediately stopped do to a rallying incident that nearly cost Robert Kubica his hand…liberally.

These are the risks. The team and Alonso have certainly discussed it and the reality of what could happen and if it is worth the risk. On the other side of this argument, what options does Alonso really have in F1? He’s been to Ferrari, that didn’t work out. Mercedes isn’t going to be keen to have him and re-create the intra-team drama he shared with Lewis Hamilton back in the day. I still think Renault is an interesting option but they are slightly ahead of McLaren Honda at this point and it will take time…time he may feel he doesn’t have.

Let’s hope everything goes well. The last time another F1 driver showed up at the Indy 500, he won the 100th running and this time, he’ll have a new teammate in the form of Fernando Alonso.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • ballbear13

    Great blog. People thinking Alonso will just walk it have never watched Indy car. I think he will still leave McLaren though. Alonso hasn’t shown much loyalty in the past, even to Renault.

  • Tom Firth

    On Mclaren at Le Mans… The idea of Mclaren entering a GT car at Le Mans is not a new one. Mclaren was looking at building a GTE spec of the MP4-12C in 2013, alongside its GT3 programme. They eventually mothballed it and continued developing the GT3 versions of the car, after the GT convergence talks failed.

    Now that we have a clear difference between a GT3 spec car and the GTE car though and with Ford’s arrival in GTE in the past couple of years and BMW’s imminent arrival in 2018. Their is an appetite once more for GT factory cars at Le Mans. Add in the Zak Brown factor and Mansour Ojjeh’s comments in the press this week and it appears it is more a case of when, not if McLaren returns at last to GT racing at Le Mans.

  • Achim

    I like F1 drivers to compete in other series, I never understood the tactics of Bernie to make sure a F1 race is on the same weekend as the 24h. Hülkenbergs participation there was a great advert for both series. I don’t think for F1 to “win” it needs the Le Mans race to “loose”. Because let’s face it: no one (apart from us idiots) watches a 24h (or even 6h) race.

    As for the risk factor: just look at Wehrlein! You don’t need a high-speed track for that.

    But having said all that, your (I think correct) assumption, that this is a “deal-sweetener” for Alonso to continue with the team beyond 2017 only shows the sorry state McLaren F1 is in. Gone are the times where drivers would line up to get a drive with them. Now they have to bribe them with other gigs.

  • charlie white

    While I can’t see the McLaren team withdrawing completely from F1, I do see them expand their resources to go play in other series, even one in the USA besides Indycars. If there’s a new list of specs and engine changes come 2020 that Zak may not like or finds overtly expensive, I think he/they will explore other series.

  • Daniel Johnson

    I think Alonso will impress. Keep in mind this is the same team that coached Kurt Busch to a top 5 a few years ago. Not to mention he’ll be well suited for the G’s and the aero aspects of Indy. Mostly he’ll have to contend with the constant mental strain of fighting with someone for 3 hours that you don’t have in F1.

    In other words driving road is like competing at golf with your friends, you have some corners that you’re better at and you’re really playing the course not your friends. Ovals are much more like hand to hand combat, the craftier driver usually can win not always the fastest. Look at the last 20 laps for the past 4 or 5 years (except last year). It’s always been a dog fight and someone has had to make a really daring move. That’s what I worry about for Alonso. 3 hours of fatigue (an hour longer than the longest F1 race) will he have the mental fortitude to make millimeter perfect moves? Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

  • Roger Flerity

    Now I get it. Alonso’s recent affirmations of loyalty to the McLaren/Honda effort make little sense based solely on F1. Honda is well off being contenders for winning – perhaps one or two more seasons, likely not until the next round of specifications, assuming Honda does not once again just quit. Unless there is divine intervention or a miracle, Alonso is not likely to attain a title with McLaren. Staying there past 2017 would make little sense. But, if you add the possibility of McLaren re-entering the WEC, which they can win, and an annual shot at Indy, the attraction to him could be strong, no matter what happens in F1. Smart move on McLaren’s part. Smart move on Alonso’s part. He stays in the sport should an unlikely opportunity pop up for a near certain 3rd F1 title, with a shot at his coveted triple crown. Who needs Monaco?

  • WHASSA-MADDA-U

    Alonso could have been caught out by how quickly the Indy deal came together. He’s been saying for a while how much he wants to win racing’s triple crown and Brown, being a doer, made things happen. It may be a case of “be careful what you ask for” and it wouldn’t be surprising if after seeing how much he has to learn in such a short period, he calls it off. I hope so because he doesn’t need to do that to prove his talent.