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Fernando Alonso's announcement this week that he will compete in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was one of the most surprising and shocking announcements in years.
The two-time F1 champion saying he would bypass driving his McLaren-Honda at the Monaco Grand Prix to race in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for Andretti Autosport was like Nico Rosberg winning the 2016 F1 championship and retiring the next day at age 31. Or in 2006 when Juan Pablo Montoya left Formula One shortly after he crashed in the first turn of the first lap in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to join NASCAR. It was a stunning move at that time because Montoya was the first driver to leave the high-tech world of Formula One to switch to stock cars.
As the Formula One community arrived in Bahrain for this weekend's grand prix, Alonso's news drew interesting reactions from fellow Formula One competitors. Here is a sampling of their thoughts:
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1, three-time F1 champion, 54-time F1 race winner, England: “I think, firstly, it's great that a driver is able to do that. I think us drivers should be able to do more than one series. Obviously, there was a period in the past when there were drivers doing multiples series, so I think it's pretty cool that he's doing it. … I wouldn't miss out any of the races in Formula One. I'd definitely continue to do all the races, but I'd like to do MotoGP. I'd like to ride a MotoGP. Is there another race? Probably a NASCAR race, like the Daytona 500 maybe.
“It's a completely different category; it's a lot, lot different. I've never driven one of those tracks, but it would be so much different for us to go and do that – how a car's set up, because it's asymmetric I think, I believe the set-ups are asymmetric. The banking, how much you lift, how you use the tires. It takes us guys forever through these test days to learn how to operate these tires in the right window, so I would imagine it's not an easy thing to do in one go, so it's definitely a tall order in a short space of time, but geez, you've got one of the best drivers in the world going there. For sure, he will be the best driver in the paddock, but he won't have the experience any of them have.
“So, I think it will be a very exciting challenge for him, to see how strong he can fare against those who have all that experience.
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1, Mexico: “I certainly wouldn't miss Monaco because, for me, Monaco is my favorite weekend in the whole calendar, so I wouldn't miss Monaco and normally you have that clash. But I'd like to do some other racing. I certainly have some interest in INDYCAR. The Indy 500 is certainly one of the best races in the world, so I'd definitely want to do some.
“There's so much to learn from a completely new series. I mean we have been doing this for many years and through the lower series as well, which is something more similar to what we do now, so going to a completely new tire, new characteristics, new ways of setting up the car, circuits, driving in the traffic. But I think with Fernando that's probably one of his strengths, how he can manage the race situations, so he'll be really good on that. Indy really depends on the last 10 laps, so I think he will be really good at it.”
Stoffel Vandoore, McLaren F1, Belgium: “I think it's a very strategic race. We've seen last year Alex Rossi winning the race and doing huge amounts of fuel saving. I think anything is possible. Fernando is a clever guy. He knows what he is doing. Hopefully he comes back with a trophy. I'll give him a bottle of milk as well.”
Jolyon Palmer, Renault F1, England: “I think it's cool. I think it's obviously something different, it's exciting for everyone, for him especially but the whole of F1. For me to do it, we're in quite different positions right now so maybe in 15 years if I'm in a similar position, then maybe.”
Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1, Denmark: “I can see that with his situation it makes sense and it's a really cool thing to do, so I can understand it.”