Memorial Day weekend was one heck of a motorsports extravaganza for open wheel racing fans. There was the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500.
First, the Indy 500 was far and away the more exciting race. I rarely even pay attention to it but the fact that Fernando Alonso decided to give it a shot was huge news and generated a ton of additional interest for what is already a tremendous event.
The race itself had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Scott Dixon/Jay Howard crash, and Helio Castro-Neves barely avoiding getting caught up in it and driving through the grass at speed underneath Dixon’s somersaulting car resembled a Hollywood stunt scene more than a real race. I could have done without the crashes but I’m glad no one was seriously hurt.
Too bad Alonso’s Honda engine let go with only a few laps to go. He was in it with a chance to win and certainly acquitted himself well regardless. Honda, not so much.
Then Castro-Neves, a three-time Indy 500 winner, managed to get his car to the front with only a few laps to go. Mind you he had lost part of his rear wing dodging the Dixon/Howard crash. The racing back and forth with Takuma Sato and Ed Jones had me on the edge of my seat.
After Alonso was out I was hoping former F1 driver Sato could bring it home first, though – based on his erratic F1 record – I was nervous he’d manage to crash within sight of the checkered flag. I can’t remember the last time a race finish was this close in F1. This year’s Indy 500 was a fantastic event with lots of excitement, despite the fact I find the cars so ungainly.
The Big Picture
If I were to bet money I’d say that next year Alonso will be remain in F1 but he won’t be driving a Honda-powered car. His competitive situation is just dreadful and there are no signs of life Honda will get it for 2018.
On the other hand, maybe Zak Brown and McLaren are looking to expand the McLaren empire to other series and to keeping Alonso by dangling the prospect of winning the triple crown he wants by getting him rides at the Indy 500 in the future, and maybe even the top class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans if McLaren builds such a car?
Even more intriguing, are the owners of the Indy 500 looking to sell to Liberty Media and how much of an influence were they in bringing Alonso on board to show how much additional interest F1 participation could produce (and therefore bump up the value of the event)?
Liberty has been clear about looking to expand the calendar with more events in the U.S. Not only that but Jean Todt has been quoted as saying the FIA are looking at coordinating the schedules of F1, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Formula E to avoid conflicts.
Might the F1 calendar be able to make it so the Indy 500 becomes an event that more F1 drivers could participate in? And what if Liberty bought IndyCar? It’s possible they could then bring F1 to venues like Long Beach, California and St. Petersburg, Florida.
I’m pretty sure there was far more to Alonso at Indy than just him wanting to race there.
On To Monaco
The Monaco GP was pretty dull, with the most exciting on-track action happening when Pascal Wehrlein and Jenson Button (“I’ll pee in your seat!”), in a one-off appearance subbing for Alonso, collided. Poor Wehrlein ended up with his car on its side against the barrier. Again, glad no one was hurt.
The other exciting moments were the times Sergio Perez drove like a bull in a china shop in between telling off his team over the radio. Team player he wasn’t, and ultimately it was for naught as he scored exactly zero points.
With the Mercedes team struggling for pace and Lewis Hamilton uncharacteristically down and out in qualifying, the race was all about the Ferraris. They qualified 1-2 with Kimi Raikkonen on pole, and finished 1-2 with teammate Sebastian Vettel winning.
One has to wonder if the team quietly switched the order of the two drivers during the pitstops to give championship leader Vettel every advantage in the battle with Hamilton. Much has been said about how unhappy Raikkonen was with the result.
While I’m not sure it does seem odd that Ferrari would pit and release Raikkonen right into lapped traffic. There is no doubt though that Vettel had immense pace so if it was a strategic call to switch the drivers, Ferrari definitely made a good choice.
It’s just that it would have been so much more interesting to see the teammates battle it out, and a Raikkonen victory would have surely been immensely popular.
Other than that it was a snoozefest. Even the ever aggressive Max Verstappen, who had his own radio meltdown, couldn’t find any way to complete an on-track pass.