It’s not just the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday but over in the States, Fernando Alonso bids to become the latest F1 driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
Alonso is bidding to add a second leg of the Triple Crown of the F1 World title, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24-hour race. It’s a feat that has only been achieved by Graham Hill. It’s been a steep learning curve for the Spanish driver but he’s been in top form over in the States. His bid began last week with five days of practice before last weekend’s qualifying session.
Practice sessions proved to be “tricky” according to Alonso with strong winds affecting one of the sessions but he still finished fourth fastest. Wind is a serious problem to deal with as it affects the car’s stability in corners so hopefully it’ll be nice and calm on Sunday.
He’s racing in a car branded for his McLaren F1 team with a Honda engine. That might cause a few causes for concern considering the problems he’s been encountering in F1 for the past couple of seasons. Alonso also must get used to the fact the oval track only has four corners. As the week went by the speed of the car increased, particularly on “Fast Friday” when his car was going an extra 6mph as the cars are prepared for the upcoming qualifying.
Bernie Ecclestone didn’t have anything to do with it but the actual qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 was a tad confusing. It was spread over two days with the top nine on Saturday going for pole on Sunday with the rest of the field back again to determine the other 24 grid positions. Saturday May 20 saw four laps with the average speed determining the qualifying positions.
Four laps are sometimes all Alonso can manage in his McLaren-Honda, sometimes he’s happy to get that far. This time he was ok though and managed to qualify in fifth place for Sunday’s race, that’s the middle of the second row and three places better than Nigel Mansell managed in 1993 and he’d had three previous Indy car races whereas this is Alonso’s debut. Those ahead of Alonso on the grid do include some other drivers that have had F1 experience. Alexander Rossi (3rd) who won this race last year, was briefly with Caterham and Marussia, while Takuma Sato (4th) had 90 races with Jordan, BAR and Super Aguri.
He set an average time of 231.3mph and it was Scott Dixon from New Zealand who will be on pole after his 232.164mph average. He could have done a bit better but his car had those dreaded engine problems with over-boost difficulties with the turbocharger costing him 0.3 to 0.4mph. Hopefully this won’t be a busman’s holiday for Alonso but you must wonder what was going through his mind as his car’s engine had to be changed between final practice and qualifying and no sign of a tennis court to go and play on.
So far, this American adventure has gone better than Alonso expected and he told reporters, “Fifteen days ago I would never have thought about fighting for the pole. Mind you, Rossi started 11th last year when winning the Indy 500 so those behind Alonso also have a good chance of victory.
Gil de Ferran who won this race in 2003 believes Alonso has a chance of winning this race after being competitive throughout practice. This is an unpredictable race though, how can it be anything else with 33 cars racing around a 2.5-mile oval track at over 200mph. Here’s hoping that Alonso can put up a great show in this race on the biggest motorsport day of the year.