Racing fans hoping to see two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso commit to a full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series may have reason to smile … or at least hope.
Although his INDYCAR program next year only includes the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the 37-year-old from Spain will be looking for opportunities in 2020 and a full IndyCar Series campaign is in the mix.
“I needed a break and I need to find motivation again and relax a little bit for a year,” Alonso said on Saturday after qualifying for F1’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“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. These are all things that are in view.”
Rumors of Alonso coming to INDYCAR full time took off after he announced earlier this year that he would not be back in F1 in 2019. Although it was hoped McLaren Racing might commit to a full INDYCAR season next year, the team recently said it would only contest the Indianapolis 500 with Alonso at the wheel.
The winner of 32 F1 races made a globally popular INDYCAR debut in the 2017 Indy 500, taking Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors after qualifying fifth and leading 27 laps before retiring with engine trouble with less than 50 miles to go. Alonso gushed about his first Indianapolis 500 experience, saying he felt “at home” and was “really proud” to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It’s not like Alonso will disappear from racing altogether in 2019. In addition to driving at Indy, he is already confirmed for three World Endurance Championship races: the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, the 8 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in May and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. On Tuesday, Alonso was also named as a driver for the Wayne Taylor Racing entry in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.
Alonso returns to Indy looking to become only the second driver in history to collect the mythical Triple Crown of motorsports: with victories in the Indianapolis 500, F1 Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Indy remains the outlier in that triad.
At the end of Sunday's race in Abu Dhabi that closed the F1 season, McLaren CEO Zak Brown signaled to Alonso on his cooldown lap that it was time to get ready for Indy, saying: “Let's go win the Triple Crown.”
The significance of being in position to attempt to win the Indianapolis 500 and match an accomplishment thus far completed only by Graham Hill is not lost on Alonso.
“Those things like Graham did in the past, they are things that are unthinkable right now in the modern era,” he said.
“I think in every series and every discipline in motorsport, you need total dedication and you need to grow up in that environment and develop your skills to that particular category. What Graham did and other drivers like Mario Andretti are things that are an inspiration for me and I will try to copy that.”
Plans for the McLaren entry in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 also got a boost this month when veteran racing executive Bob Fernley was named president of McLaren IndyCar. Fernley recently left F1's Force India team and previously worked in Can-Am and Indy car racing in the 1970s and ‘80s with Ensign.
With McLaren's INDYCAR leadership now in place, the Triple Crown challenge awaits in May. Alonso feels that the level playing field means it will be within his grasp.
“At the end of the day, the cars are the same chassis-wise, the aero package is the same, and there are two engines and they are quite similar in terms of performance, so I think we will have a chance,” he said.
“We need to respect the race because we will be against the best in racing, but we as McLaren should have a competitive package.”