Fernando Alonso's not so shock announcement on Tuesday, declaring his intention to retire from Formula One at the end of the 2018 season, has certainly taken the internet by storm. The 2 time world champion, stuck in the back of the F1 grid thanks to a thoroughly un-competitive Renault powered McLaren, has never been one to shy away from voicing his opinions and it would seem that years of frustration at McLaren have finally boiled over, prompting the 37 year old Spaniard to leave the team, and the sport, for good.
Due in large part to Alonso's public desire to win racing's Triple Crown (Monaco, Le Mans, and Indianapolis) speculation has been rank that he will join the proposed partnership of McLaren and Andretti Autosports for the 2019 Indycar season, and race full time in the American series. But, despite groundwork being laid, there are still serious doubts if it will come to fruition for 2019.
Will Alonso Even Be Able to Do a Full Indycar Schedule?
The simple answer is yes. He will. Despite having no Formula One commitments in 2019, Alonso is still signed on as a full Toyota works team driver for the 2018-2019 WEC Super Season and, as such, will need to ensure no conflicts exist around his previous commitment.
Luckily for him, none do. If Alonso were to drive full time in Indycar, there would be two tight weekends, seeing him have to finish the 6 Hours of Spa and jump on a plane to immediately start on practice for the Indy GP the following weekend. The other weekend is far simpler with Alonso only needing to traverse Florida, hopping from the Indycar Grand Prix of St. Pete to the WEC 1000 Miles of Sebring in the course of four days.
It may seem a bit hectic in those moments, but the truth is that Alonso has put himself through far worse in the 2018 season, so there's no reason to think he wouldn't be able to do it in 2019.
Will He Have a Car?
Here lies the big question. If McLaren were to follow through on their plans for 2019, there can be little doubt that Alonso would be their #1 driver. However, Scott Dixon's recent contract extension with Chip Ganassi Racing has raised eyebrows. The contract is believed to be a two year contract with significant escape clauses for Dixon after one year. With McLaren thought to have courted Dixon hard, the re-up with CGR indicates that either Dixon does not believe McLaren will but up and running in time to compete in 2019 or that they may have pushed back their time tables all together and are now focusing on a 2020 entry.
McLaren's last full blown entry into American Open Wheel Racing, the 1974 MC16C, driven by Johnny Rutheford. Rutheford went on to win the '74 race. Photo Credit: Sotheby's
Regardless, and here's where we wander into rampant speculation, if McLaren were to not field a car in 2019 and Alonso still wished to enter as a full time entry, there are plenty of avenues he could take to.
For starters, Alonso may find himself lucky enough to partner Dixon outside of a McLaren, as CGR's Ed Jones has failed to impress this year and rumors have been swirling about Chip's confidence in the Dubai born racer. Ganassi certainly has the experience and race winning pedigree to help Alonso's dreams come true, but more importantly, they also have the money to pay for a salary that Alonso (coming out of the lavish excess of F1) wouldn't outright laugh at.
Pato O'Ward and Colton Herta drive through a rainy Indy Lights race at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo Credit: Indy Lights
Michael Andretti's Andretti Autosports could look a very similar mold for Alonso, however, Andretti's dance card appears full with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Zach Veach all being locked into multi-year contracts. Marco Andretti also looks to stay with the team as he continues to show improved pace in the 2018 universal aero kit mode. Added to that, rumors seem to be coming closer and closer to reality that either Pato O'Ward or Colton Herta, Andretti's two Indy Lights stars, will end up in a co-branded Andretti Autosports machine for 2019.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Well, this is where it gets interesting. Penske has publically stated that he would like to add a driver or two for some select races (Tony Stewart at Indianapolis, for instance), but it's hard to make the math work. Furthermore he's also stated that he does not want to throw a hodgepodge team together for an entry, preferring to have a group of the best mechanics and engineers for every car he fields.
Penske has two of his drivers on lock for next year, Josef Newgarden and Will Power, with Helio Castroneves all but confirmed for a one-off drive at the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Penske's final driver, Simon Pagenaud, however, does not look on stable grounds with The Captain.
Despite being the 2016 Indycar Series Champion, Pagenaud has not lived up to his earlier hype in 2018. He currently sits 7th in the championship and has only stood on the podium twice, both 2nd place finishes in Texas and in Toronto. Sources within the Indycar paddock confirm that Pagenaud is most certainly on the hot seat. And should the chance for Roger Penske to sign Fernando Alonso arise, you can bet the unforgiving Penske would jump at the chance to do it.
So there you have it. Alonso, if he were to attempt to enter the Indycar season at full bore in 2019, has three reasonable options. If McLaren gets their act together, he will undoubtedly sign with them. If they do not, there is a good chance that the Spanish World Champion could end up at one of the three premiere teams in Indycar. Anyway it falls, though, Alonso coming to Indycar would be a massive boon for the sport and for American Open Wheel Racing as a whole.