Why Alonso racing in Indy is great for everyone
If you are anything like me, or us, then you can’t help but be thrilled to watch a solitary car, running lap after lap, on the least interesting track circuit you could ever design. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a step up from a straight drag strip, but not a scratch on the Senna S or the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel series.
This weekend Fernando Alonso will be swapping the streets of Monaco for the oval of the Indy 500. It’s a move which has got people talking and tuning in. The move is a smart on from McLaren, Alonso and Zac Brown. Yes, Alonso is missing the biggest publicity and marketing race of the year, but there are so many positives to come out of it.
1) Over two million fans tuned into watch Alonso going around the Indy circuit. He was by himself. Lap after lap, all on his lonesome. Just one car on the whole circuit. Yet two million people chose to give up their time. To find the website or channel which was showing the practice session. Then to watch with intermittent commentary and long delays between action. The fans brought into the whole idea from the moment it was announced.
2) The difference in Alonso is obvious for absolutely everyone to see. He must have been getting bored of answering the same old engine questions after every trip to the track. How many different ways can you try and put a positive spin on having the worst engine on the grid by a large chunk. Then how do you put a positive spin on not even making it to the lights to start a race. But every word out of Alonso’s mouth is now positive and you can see the rejuvenation of the man right in front of our eyes. He should return to the F1 grid with a new spring in his step.
3) There has been a swell of positive press towards McLaren because of the Indy angle. If you have a look through all of the racing sites and magazines, there isn’t enough space to put the negative stories about McLaren or Honda. Every inch is filled with the orange decals of Alonso’s Indy car. The retro scheme has been warmly welcomed by everyone from the professional drivers, the press and the fans. People are talking about McLaren in a positive light again.
4) McLaren’s recent upturn in positive publicity might be the key to them finally getting a few more high profile sponsors. Dare we even dream of them finding a new title sponsor, just like Ron promised all those years ago. Honda, Jonny Walker, Chandon, Hilton Hotels and SAP have all been given this little extra push and are going to be reaping the rewards of the extra publicity and screen time. There is even a great article in Forbes exactly on this theme. A title sponsor or even just a major new sponsor could be the key push that McLaren and Honda need to break into the points sooner.
5) We get to see Jenson Button racing again. It’s no surprise that I’m a huge Jenson Button fan, the man is one of the best respected people in the paddock and has always been jovial on camera and at public events. It just seems like he is a genuinely nice man. A British World Champion, driving for a British F1 team is always going to get the British fans behind him, then team that up with his public persona and there was only one man to support for those years. His last race at the end of the 2016 season was met with the feeling that we didn’t know if we would see him race again or not.
6) Motorsport has been making front page news, it’s made Radio 1 news beat and non-racing people are talking about it. The publicity generated from one man, doing one race, all the way over there in America, has been huge. The more column inches and time spent during the news talking about motorsport is only going to be good for the sport. We’ve just had the tragic news of Nicky Hayden, and it’s a shock to the system, but the best way to bounce back and to recover is to look at the positives. Alonso in Indy is a huge positive for every aspect of motorsport.
7) Alonso has a chance to show how great a driver he is again. How and why is a two-time world champion, struggling to drive the paint of a car which is barely worthy of even being on the grid. McLaren have actually produced a very competitive car, their pit-crew can now change an engine wearing blindfolds and oven gloves, but nothing makes up for a power unit which is seriously lacking power. Now for one weekend only he has been given a competitive car and surprise, surprise he is the top rookie. He’s qualified in fifth in his first every oval race and has barely put a foot wrong. He’s grazed the walls in turn two a few times, but he’d be doing the same in Monaco this weekend. It’s called pushing the boundaries. We’ve yet to see what will happen over the weekend, but getting the car home will be a success in our book.
8) It has completely taken the pressure off of Honda for a few weeks. No-one has even mentioned Honda’s lack of engine power as the attention has been taken off of their F1 woes and transferred over to the Indy success. Hopefully, they have been able to use this time to produce a highly competitive engine which can return McLaren to the points at the very least. Honda have spent the last few years getting a shoe-in from the press due to their lacklustre engine, but these weeks have been a turn-up in fortune and press for them.
9) Ron Dennis was a great figure head for McLaren, from the moment he came in from Project 4 and took them to multiple world champions, he was amazing. He was the right leader at the right time and he steered the ship in an amazingly successful way. But the time came for him to move on and the new bosses are remarkedly different to the old guard. Would Ron have let Alonso miss Monaco? Would Ron have allowed him to run in a car which wasn’t simply called a McLaren. Zac Brown has ushered in many changes at McLaren and a lot of little differences have been noticed from the outside. From as simple as employees posting photos of their offices and the MTC on social media, right up to Fernando’s American trip.
10) The best thing to come out of Fernando racing in the Indy 500 is the extra time we get to sit watching racing this weekend. We can pretty much go from Saturday morning at 8:45 until well into Sunday night. The more racing we can watch on a weekend, the better.
Whilst Alonso racing in the Indy 500 might just seem like a driver trying his hand at another race, but the positive merits are being felt far further afield than just inside Alonso’s cockpit. However it ends on Sunday night, it’s been a success if he can return to McLaren and race for some points in Canada.