Fernando Alonso has what it takes to win Indy 500
The Spaniard shunned the glamour and glitz of the Monaco Grand Prix for the festival of Americana that is the Indy 500.
McLaren-Honda were more than happy to let him miss what would have been his 16th Grand Prix in Monte Carlo – after all, their Honda engine was hardly likely to get him to the finish line, never mind the podium.
It was somewhat ironic then that with 21 circuits left of the 200-lap race in Indianapolis, Alonso’s engine blew, just as team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay’s had earlier in the afternoon, and the 35-year-old was forced to make an all-too-familiar trudge back to the pits.
He was still left with some cause to celebrate as another Honda-powered Andretti Autosport car crossed the line first after a gruelling 500 miles, driven by former F1 rival Takuma Sato.
Funnily enough, it is nearly 10 years to the day since Sato overtook Alonso in the closing laps of the Canadian Grand Prix to take an unlikely sixth place in his Super Aguri.
The Japanese veteran of nearly 20 years of motor racing roared with delight into his team radio after taking the chequered flag while Alonso genuinely lauded his victory.
Fernando Alonso at the Indy 500 Wed, May 3, 2017
Fernando Alonso has tested his McLaren Honda Andretti Indycar ahead of the Indianapolis 500
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Fernando Alonso shows off his new McLaren Honda Andretti Indycar
The smile that has been painted across the McLaren-Honda driver’s face this week has been unflinching and quite natural.
After a few miserable years since rejoining the Woking team, Alonso was on a racing holiday, battling at the front of the field where he feels he belongs.
He will be back in Indianapolis. You had only to listen to the American commentators to know how impressive his ‘rookie’ – the terms seems inappropriate for a man with two F1 world titles – race was.
Even to the naked and relatively untrained eye, Alonso was fast. His bright, papaya orange car weaved time and again into spots where no other man in his first oval race would dare put his nose. He produced overtaking manoeuvres on the inside, the outside, the low side, the high side, the pit road: he was completely fearless and ultimately in control.
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There were weaknesses. The rolling starts, which he would not have taken part in since his karting days, saw Alonso drop back in the early stages, forcing him to show off his overtaking skills.
But the learning curve on which he was sliding was spectacular and by the end, the restarts after the dramatic crashes which brought out the caution or red flags were not something for Alonso to fear. Like a terrifying super-computer from the 23rd century, he had quickly learned and adapted.
In the immediate aftermath of his retirement, Alonso tried desperately not to commit to returning next year. After all, perhaps his new team won’t let him, if indeed he fails to renew his expiring McLaren contract.
However, he could not resist all but confirming that he would indeed be back for a second shot at Indy 500.
When he does return, he will no longer be a green rookie, asking team-mates for advice about cornering and passing moves.
With all of his previous experience, he will start Indy 500 2018 one of the favourites to cement his place in motor racing history as one of the most talented drivers of all time.