Alonso tack­ling F1, Le Mans and the WEC in the same sea­son is to be ap­plauded

Evo - - DRIVEN -

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’

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