Alonso tackling F1, Le Mans and the WEC in the same season is to be applauded
YOU CAN’T BLAME FERNANDO ALONSO FOR wanting to branch out. His is a ferocious talent, but it has been becalmed these past three years by a woeful Honda engine and a Mclaren chassis not yet back at Formula 1’s cutting edge. So the news Alonso will compete in this season’s Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship for Toyota, at the same time as doing all 21 F1 races for the newly Renault-powered Mclaren team, isn’t unexpected. He’s been trying to make it happen for years.
In recent seasons Porsche held talks with Alonso about joining his friend Mark Webber in the team, but they came to nothing, and while Honda was paying most of Alonso’s salary, a Toyota drive was politically out of the question. But with the Honda divorce complete, the only barrier remaining was Mclaren, which had to be willing to allow its prize asset to potentially wear himself out driving in both championships simultaneously. Its conclusion was that, as last year proved (and as Ron Dennis can confirm), it’s better to employ a happy Fernando Alonso than an angry Fernando Alonso, so following a final ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ test (racing at the Daytona 24 Hours in January), it concluded that yes, that would be just fine.
It’s undoubtedly a risk for both parties – accidents happen – but Fernando’s appetite for redefining what a modern Grand Prix driver can do should be applauded. Mclaren’s unreliability means Alonso hasn’t exactly been pushed to the limit physically or mentally in recent seasons, which is just as well, as he’s set for a year of horrendous jet lag. His summer schedule is busier than that of a Center Parcs pool cleaner. The Canadian Grand Prix on 10 June is followed on successive weekends by Le Mans, Paul Ricard, Zeltweg and Silverstone; the last three forming F1’s first-ever triple-header. The end of the season is no easier, with the Brazilian Grand Prix followed by a long trip across the Pacific to Shanghai and then a further nine-hour flight westbound to F1’s finale in Abu Dhabi.
A pretty rosy Airmiles haul ahead, then. Almost as healthy are Alonso’s chances of winning Le Mans outright. Toyota is the only manufacturer team left in LMP1, so is unlikely to be challenged for pace by Oreca, Dallara or Ginetta. Sure, the Japanese could still lose the race through unreliability or silly mistakes, as they’ve done on their last two attempts, but if both entries do make it to the end in one piece it’s likely Toyota would engineer it so that Fernando’s car wins. That would chalk up number two of his cherished triple crown (after his Monaco GP wins), leaving only the Indy 500.
That, however, will have to wait, because for as long as Indianapolis continues to clash with the Monaco Grand Prix, Mclaren will demand Fernando stays in Europe. For the first time in five years, it has a pretty good shot at winning the race. In fact, this season is looking much better all round for Mclaren. Renault still won’t have a match for Mercedes’ power units when it comes to its special qualifying engine modes, but the Mclaren-Renault package should be good enough for a win or two, as long as Alonso isn’t too knackered.
The coming season is full of intriguing stories, not least of which concerns grid girls, and how the world’s most glamorous sport has decided to end the tradition of having scantily clad women holding the drivers’ name boards and flags on the grid and awkwardly applauding the winners as they climb the stairs to the podium.
At hot races grid girls are made to stand for a good hour in the baking sun on the start/finish straight with no shelter or water, in uncomfortable-looking high heels while being told to look happy and smile. More often than not at least one gets dehydrated or dizzy or actually faints and has to be unceremoniously carried off by a couple of mechanics. Same for the support races earlier in the day.
It’s an equally miserable job when it rains. They’re holding a sign or a flag and a smile, and that’s it – umbrellas are not allowed. When it’s cold they freeze and when it’s windy they wish they were dressed more appropriately; some outfits they are made to wear would even be deemed too skimpy for the Presidents Club.
So it’s goodbye, grid girls. Clearing the agenda nicely for arguably more pressing concerns: the paucity of wheel-to-wheel racing, bland modern circuits, unfair money distribution, soaring costs, over-complicated rules, dull engine sounds and fugly new halos. Little wonder Alonso wants to broaden his horizons.
‘He’s set for a year of horrendous jet lag. His summer schedule is busier than that of a Center Parcs pool cleaner’