Fernando Alonso: What’s Next?

Image courtesy of Pirelli

Motorsports After coming perilously close to drinking the milk at the end of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 race, speculation over whether Fernando Alonso would take the leap from Formula 1 to the Verizon IndyCar Series began to spread across the paddocks on both sides of the pond.

It was confirmed in November of this year that Alonso would throw his hat into the ring once again driving for McLaren, working with Andretti Racing, in the hopes of obtaining the unofficial ‘Triple Crown’. There is much speculation as to whether Alonso would be interested in becoming a more permanent fixture in what some motorsport fans consider the ‘American Version’ of F1, however, nothing has been set in stone.

Talking with journalists following his last race in Formula 1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso is in no hurry to make plans: “I needed a break and I need to find motivation again.

“For 2020, I don’t know exactly what I will do or what will be the plan. I am open to different things – maybe a full season in IndyCar, maybe a full season in F1 again.”

Alonso wouldn’t be the first Formula 1 driver to make the transition. He would be following iconic drivers such as Rubens Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, and with the interesting mix of street and oval circuits, the series offers a new challenge for Alonso after 18 years in F1.

In the run up to the end of the Formula 1 season, Alonso signed himself up to a mixture of endurance races. He is scheduled to complete the remaining 3 races in the World Endurance Championship, finishing in Le Mans, before heading to Indianapolis for the second time to hopefully take the win.

Not long after reaching the chequered flag in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso was back in the driving seat, this time having swapped cars with NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson. It was thought that Alonso’s interest was in testing Johnson’s car in preparation for the Daytona 500, which he has since confirmed he will be a part of.

Interestingly enough, Johnson’s contract with NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports is set to end in 2020 and having already expressed an interest in IndyCar. Though it is highly unlikely Johnson would ever drive in F1 (apart from the one-off car swap), taking an open-wheel car out for a spin has given him a new outlook on his abilities:

“What I take away from that F1 experience is I climbed in an unfamiliar car and environment and did really well. My natural instincts, my ability to drive, my ability to scare myself and challenge myself hasn’t gone anywhere.” Perhaps the pair are beginning to lay the foundation for a standalone McLaren team in the Verizon IndyCar Series?

It’s probably best not to get carried away just yet, as Alonso has also confessed his departure from F1 might be short lived: “I’ve been doing this my whole life. Maybe next year by April or May I am desperate on the sofa, so maybe I find a way somehow to come back.” Perhaps he will follow in ex- Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa’s footsteps in announcing retirement, before returning unexpectedly to race another season.

Only time will tell, but for now keep an eye on Alonso, his career certainly isn’t over yet!

Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson complete Bahrain car-swap

A mere 14 hours after his emotional goodbye to F1, Fernando Alonso was already back at a race track and at the wheel of an F1 car. The car in question was the 2013 McLaren, the last of the V8’s in F1, though that was not his main focus for the day. Alonso was there to try out Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR, with growing speculation around a potential Daytona 500 entry for the Spaniard in the coming years. While Alonso got his first taste of NASCAR, Johnson, in turn, got his first experience in an F1 car, having already spent a day in the McLaren simulator in Woking.

As day broke at the Bahrain International Circuit, Johnson headed out for an installation lap in his #48 NASCAR. He gave Alonso a few pointers and showed him how to exit the car in the customary NASCAR way… through the window. After that, Alonso emerged onto the Bahrain track for the first time since his seventh-place finish in April, with the two-time F1 champion also completing installation laps in the McLaren.

They’d given their own cars a run, but now it was time for them to have a go in each other’s cars, as that was the whole reason they were all there in the first place! Alonso, impatient as ever, was the first to head out, taking time to adapt to the different challenges that the NASCAR posed compared to his F1 car. The biggest change for Alonso was the braking and downforce of the NASCAR, which were nowhere near the levels of F1, as well as the sheer weight of the #48 and its tendency to slide through corners.

For all the difficulties Alonso had, Johnson had them pretty much in reverse. He had to deal with huge levels of acceleration and deceleration, not to mention the G-forces that go with it, and the increased downforce of the F1 car, meaning he had to completely rethink his driving style. While some of that could’ve been recreated on the simulator, the over 6 Gs of loading could not, so Johnson was in for quite a shock when he hit the brakes for the first time. Afterwards, he took to Twitter to say how this loading made his eyes ‘lose focus’ and his ‘vision to go blurry’.

But, despite the challenges, Johnson certainly impressed Alonso with his attitude and times, ending the day only a few tenths shy of the Spaniard’s morning benchmark. Equally, Alonso impressed in the NASCAR, but then that was to be expected – he’s already proven he’s a weapon in any car he drives, and this was no exception.

Alonso ended his F1 career by doing donuts on the start/finish straight at Abu Dhabi with fellow champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. He ended the car swap by doing donuts with Johnson, with both soon mastering the donut technique needed in their new cars.

Although this was all posed as a bit of fun, it did have true meaning, for Alonso at least, as he eyes up opportunities across the racing world. He’s likely to be driving a NASCAR in anger in the not too distant future while Johnson, as impressive as his times were, is unlikely to climb in an F1 car again unless it’s for an event like this. But, either way, both drivers seemed to have a brilliant time in Bahrain, getting a taste of each other’s worlds and attracting a lot of media attention in the process.

Knowing Alonso and Johnson, that probably won’t be the last of their adventures together… who knows what the next chapter might involve!

#JJxALO

Featured image courtesy of Andy Hone/McLaren

Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson announce car-swap

After just over two months of teasing, Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson have finally announced that they will be driving each other’s cars at the Bahrain International Circuit on the 26th November, the day after the Abu Dhabi GP. No more information than that is given in the admittedly cringe-worthy fifty-second clip posted on both driver’s social media accounts, but it does at least draw some sort of an end to the speculation that had been conjuring up ever since this was first hinted at in mid-September.

The first video, posted on 12th September, set up the idea of a car-swap scenario with both drivers expressing interest at the events on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Really, this goes back much further than September, in fact back to late January when the pair took part in a rather amusing photo-shoot at the Daytona 24 hours, which can be essentially described as a staring competition (with a cameo from Lando Norris).

The next teaser came nearly two weeks ago with another equally cheesy clip, showing Alonso and Johnson going about their training regimes while watching each other’s races, though both of them were winning their races so it must have been from quite some time ago!

This whole saga has been very typical of Alonso’s appearances on social media of late, generally communicating through the medium of cryptic GIFs and tweets. Basically, it’s made everyone do what we’re doing now, talk about both Alonso and Johnson, whose careers have taken respective nose-dives in recent years. Johnson hasn’t won a race all season in the NASCAR Cup Series, his last win was back at Dover in 2017 and many have been speculating about his future in the series. It’s a very similar story for Alonso whose winless drought stretches back to the 2013 Spanish GP, with his F1 career coming to a conclusion at the end of this season.

The car-swap could be seen as a publicity stunt for both drivers, both wanting to remind the world of their greatness despite their respective lulls. Equally, they could just be doing it for a bit of fun; they’re both of a similar ‘drive anything’ type of personality and have clearly formed a strong friendship over the years… This kind of thing has probably been on the cards longer than anyone else knew, they just had to work out how to make it feasible.

Alonso himself may view this as the start of his 2019 ventures which remain as of yet unannounced. He’s hinted that he’ll probably not be doing a complete season of anything but instead dipping in and out of various series with the Indy 500 obviously a target and rumours that he may be attempting the Daytona 500 as well.

Whatever the reason behind it, the car-swap will be very interesting to see with more focus probably on Alonso’s NASCAR performance than Johnson’s F1 run for a multitude of reasons, mainly that the Spaniard will almost certainly drive a NASCAR again whereas Johnson is unlikely to get another go in an F1 car.

Bring it on… #JJxALO

Featured image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren