McLaren hasn’t fared well in Formula 1 as of late, with the team’s Honda power unit being the main cause of its woes. This has reportedly put team driver and Formula 1 star Fernando Alonso in a funk — something he has made apparent in interviews. In a stunning move that is perhaps an attempt to provide the Spaniard with some much needed fun, McLaren and Alonso on Wednesday announced he will skip this May’s Monaco Grand Prix — F1’s crown jewel — and head to Indiana to compete in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
Alonso will drive for the Honda-powered Andretti Autosport team, which has won the race four times, including last year when IndyCar rookie and ex-F1 hopeful Alexander Rossi scored a shocking victory. Alonso will become the sixth driver on Andretti Autosport’s roster for the upcoming race, driving alongside Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, and rookie Jack Harvey.
Alonso will drive a Dallara-Honda car with its exterior sporting the same orange McLaren livery also found on his F1 car. The team is also likely to keep many of Alonso’s sponsors. McLaren’s inclusion in the Indy 500 will mark the first time the organization has raced in the IndyCar series since its exit in 1979.
F1 drivers racing at Indy isn’t unprecedented, as swapping back and forth from each series used to be more common, with the likes of Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Alberto Ascari, Jochen Rindt, Jacques Villeneuve, and Nelson Piquet competing in both throughout the years. However, Alonso’s skipping of Monaco is an unusual situation.
McLaren has not announced who will replace him, though former McLaren stalwart Jenson Button remains tied to the team. McLaren also has three test and development drivers: Oliver Turvey, Nobuharu Matsushita, and Nyck De Vries. Other than Button, Turvey is the only one of the candidates with actual experience behind the wheel of an F1 car, completing 698 test laps, and currently races in Formula E.
As for Alonso, he said, “I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500 with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport. The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivaled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix. I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast. I’ve watched a lot of IndyCar action on TV and online, and it’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220 mph. I realize I’ll be on a steep learning curve.”
Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner, four-time IndyCar champion, and a 24 Hours of Daytona winner, told MotorSport Alonso’s debut in IndyCar is “brilliant for IndyCar, absolutely brilliant. To see him going head-to-head with the likes of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, these types of drivers, is just fantastic and it will make a massive splash around the world.” Franchitti did acknowledge that Alonso will need to learn quickly and make sure he’s digesting all the information he gets in order to succeed.
Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns the Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series, said, “The entire IndyCar community — competitors, fans, media, everyone — is delighted and excited at the prospect of a driver as brilliant as Fernando making his debut in our series. Even better, he’ll be making that debut in the greatest race of our year, the world-famous Indy 500.”
McLaren commercial boss Zak Brown — who has strong business ties to IndyCar and who was behind the idea of Alonso racing at Indy — said, “I would love to have Fernando to be in two places at one time but we can’t, at least that technology has not yet been developed. I think the opportunity for the prize in Indianapolis is very large and an opportunity that none of us want him to miss.”
Alonso will fly to Indianapolis after the Spanish Grand Prix to begin testing. Indianapolis 500 practice begins May 15, with the race scheduled for Sunday, May 28.