Alonso will win this year’s Indy 500
|Alonso will be back at Indy with Andretti in 2020 (strong rumor) and Andrew Maitland is betting Alonso will drink the milk on May 24th|
It must be a little weird to be as good as Fernando Alonso. But while his career is somewhat of a baffling rollercoaster right now, he's laying the foundation of what could become the new and unprecedented benchmark for a life in motorsport not just well spent, but eternally remembered and never matched or surpassed.
It's tempting to think it hasn't been a perfect ride for the mercurial Spaniard who is now equally well-known on both sides of the pond, but I think that's just plain wrong. Fernando Alonso's career was just so … Fernando Alonso.
If you look up an old photo of Alonso in 2001, when he made his F1 debut as a teenager, it's obvious that he hadn't yet mastered the art of standing up straight with his shoulders back. These days, many of his detractors (and even his fans, it has to be said) think Fernando is cocky, but those of us who have covered his entire career know just how painfully shy he was. And shyness is so often artfully covered up by … cockiness.
But that's selling Alonso a little short, and buying into the narrative that the two-time champion (who should have joined Lewis Hamilton on the cusp of breaking every F1 record on the books) is a deliberate and absolute pain in the you-know-what.
I recall 2001 very well, when absolutely no one who spent their days analyzing Formula 1 would have associated Alonso's name with cockiness. Back then, we were just mesmerized by his talent. Sure, it was buried deep in the dark end of the midfield, but what this kid could do with a Minardi that should have been last everywhere was gob-smacking. Regularly 16th or 17th when his cobbled-together car should have been 22nd and dead last, the latest Flavio Briatore protege's first (and only) back to back titles put him in the record books as the youngest ever world champion.
Then it all started to go horribly wrong.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I certainly don't blame Fernando for wanting a new challenge after – like Schumacher before him – apparently easily cruising like a mountain climber in zero gravity to the very top of motor racing's highest peak. You can't even blame him for selecting McLaren to stick his number 1 sticker on, or clashing so horribly with Ron Dennis when his obvious number 1 status was so surprisingly challenged by the baby-faced rookie Hamilton in the other car. I don't even blame him for losing control of his ego at the age of 26 (who didn't?), or throwing Ron under the bus when he sent incriminating emails to FIA president Max Mosley that cost McLaren $100 million and almost everything else in the awful 'spy-gate' scandal.
In some ways, Alonso reminds me of Lance Armstrong – or any top sportsman who has from time to time danced merrily on the line between good and evil. You see, some people (like you and me, no doubt) play the game. Guys like Lance and Fernando play only to win. So while Armstrong was the best not only at climbing, he was also the best at doping – just like Alonso was the best at stomping on the gas and the best at getting embroiled in the best race strategy of all time, when he won in Singapore in a Renault that had no business on the podium. This scandal was known as 'crash-gate', because his teammate Nelson Piquet agreed to a dangerous and audacious plot to deliberately crash his car, triggering a perfectly-timed safety car that would win Fernando the race.
|He won't be in the Papaya Orange car at Indy this year, but Andretti and Honda will provide him with a car capable of winning|
Alonso, now 38, skilfully emerged from that second consecutive scandal while others around him would never recover, only to switch to Ferrari and win Maranello's affections – before that relationship soured when he never really had a scarlet car capable of winning the title in any of those five years. Italians and Spaniards have never really gotten along anyway, so his next move was a return to the cockpit of a truly horrible McLaren-Honda, triggering the obvious conclusion that a driver who abandons Renault, almost burns McLaren to the ground, infuriates Ferrari, ridicules and embarrasses Honda, and swaps Formula 1 for the Dakar rally, may well be an extremely talented driver, but he might just need some anger management or something.
But I disagree with that. Let's say Alonso had deservedly won two titles at Ferrari, won (as was the plan) on the third and final season of the McLaren-Honda debacle, and even added an easy couple of bonus championships at Mercedes, I think he STILL would have got bored of Formula 1 by the end of 2018. My claim is that Alonso didn't just want to win the Indy 500 and Le Mans to complete the 'triple crown' – I think he wants to show the world that there's never been a racing driver quite like Fernando. Someone with not just the balls and bravado, but also the brains and ability to pull it all off. I doubt that he does Daytona and the Dakar because it's more fun than sitting on the couch – I think he does it to go down in history as a sort of human/motor racing power socket (that is, plug a semi-decent automobile in, flick the switch, and this freak of nature will win.
Alonso has just severed his last ambassadorial ties to McLaren, because loyalty and a few dollars means nothing when the orange car he is supplied for the Indy 500 isn't even good enough to qualify. Make no mistake, a plum Andretti ride carrying a mercurial Spaniard now with plenty of Indy experience will flash past the yard of bricks at 240 miles per hour in May, and my $100 wager will put $3000 in my hands when he gulps his preferred 2% milk late on May 24.
Who's with me?