The announcement that Fernando Alonso would be skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to race the Indianapolis 500 has garnered almost all of the attention of the Formula 1 paddock. While in some ways it is a dizzying announcement, brimming with angles to be examined, the overall sense is that the move is a good one — for Alonso, for McLaren/Honda, for IndyCar, maybe for F1, and for Liberty Media.
Part of the discussion revolves around the long-term vision for McLaren/Honda. While both organizations are large and with varied interests, and their alignment thus far has brought dismal results, it looks as though the two are tied together. Keeping Alonso happy and with the team is a key part of the strategy as noted when McLaren racing director Eric Boullier was asked if offering Alonso the Indy 500 was part of a strategy to re-sign Alonso in 2018: “Sure, why not? you know? Everybody has got his own tricks when you have to negotiate about a contract.”
The second part of the larger picture is McLaren/Honda determining if a partnership in IndyCar is something worth developing. While Honda is already established in the series, part of what makes Alonso’s jump so easy, they would also be able to bring sporting knowledge to McLaren. The question that would arise is how invested McLaren would be racing in a series where they are unable to implement their own chassis. Perhaps they would be able to foster a shift in the sport.
The views from other drivers in the F1 garage have been positive yet intriguing. Interviews surrounding the Bahrain Grand Prix have exhibited both excitement and personal thoughts. Lewis Hamilton offered best wishes but also seemed disappointed by saying that he had previously attempted to race in NASCAR, but because Mercedes does not have an engine or partner in the sport the discussion never moved forward. Daniel Ricciardo thought it would be a good experience for Alonso but that he would have to work up the courage to race in IndyCar – though he’d be willing to do the Daytona 500.
For IndyCar everything is a positive. They get an increase in international attention which is something that may help them continue their slow but steady rise in viewership. In addition, Indy 500, though long held as a beacon on the motorsport calendar, re-asserts itself as a marquee event.
The one aspect that has eluded much of the discussion is what role Liberty Media may or may not have had in such a move. It is no secret that the American company that completed its purchase of F1 is looking to the American market as their target. Did they have anything to do with Alonso’s 500 attempt? Doubtful, but they might certainly be encouraging it; happy that Alonso will receive vast exposure in the states which may translate to more eyes on the F1 product. Who knows what happens behind what gets reported, but something like this story is complex and who knows who may have played a part. Be sure to recognize that this column is not advocating for any conspiracy theories.
Overall, Alonso’s calendar change is one that has brought wonderment to some and surprise to most. Whether or not he makes it past Turn 1 on race day doesn’t matter, sometimes the lead-up is the main point.
Odds & Sods
– While Alonso was taking over the headlines there things happening on track in practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix that are worth mentioning. One of the interesting stories so far this season has been the implementation by many teams of the T-wing on the back half of their engine cover. The additional air flow assistance offers another way of crafting how the air moves about the car though it does not add to something as important as downforce.
The teams have found a pleasant little loophole to use this T-wing concept and many on the grid have implemented them in looking for any kind of competitive edge that can be gained. The notable exception has been Red Bull. So when Valtteri Bottas, of Mercedes, had his T-wing come off in practice (for the second straight race) naturally it would hit Max Verstappen’s car — causing damage to the Red Bull driver’s floor and sending him out of practice.
As one would expect, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made sure to let his feelings be known that the T-wing is a stupid thing and should be banned. As yet, however, F1 competition director has made no comments, allowing the use of the wing to continue. That doesn’t mean that changes are not afoot as F1 enjoys next enjoys an off weekend which would give the organization an opportunity to make changes, something it may not wanted to do on the second weekend of back-to-back schedule of flyaway races.
– While there has been focus on the T-wing for many of the teams, there are also rumors that Ferrari has found a way to manipulate the floor of their car to give it an aerodynamic advantage. The word is that they have turned their flooring into sections so that it bends, creating what to the naked eye would be a slight way of closing off the air on the sides of the car.
The focus here is on keeping the air that would flow over the car from getting underneath it, disrupting the downforce. If the floor truly does bend then it is sealing off, even if slightly, it is keeping the underside from facing low pressure air changes. These type of rumors don’t tend to happen in a vacuum, so this may be an issue that Ferrari face going forward. Seeing as how their driver, Sebastian Vettel, took the top spot in the first two practices, this may very well be something the governing body keeps a keen eye on.
– Keeping with the floor theme for this week’s Slipstream, Williams found themselves battling one of their own during the second practice. Their rookie driver, Lance Stroll, had to end his session early after saying that his feet were on fire and that he could no longer continue.
These type of things happen occasionally, and with a hard-braking track it may not be a surprise if one of the shield couldn’t handle the heat. Haas F1 has faced all kinds of braking issues in its infant existence and yet they haven’t had any of their floors compromised. Then again, the problem Haas faced was that their brakes tended to explode when they got too hot, so maybe they haven’t even discovered if their heat shields work. For Williams, this problem seems like an anomaly be it car or the driver.
– Just in case you hadn’t already heard, Jenson Button will be coming out of ‘not retirement’ to drive Alonso’s car for the Monaco GP. That must be a wonderful gig – just hang about and then get thrown a quite the fine gift – though we shouldn’t anticipate seeing much more of the non-retired Button.
The first race held in Bahrain came in 2004 with Michael Schumacher taking the victory. Though the track was reconfigured at one time it is back to its original layout, which is 3.3 miles in length and features 15 turns, and though the track looks flat it’s bit of deception with surprising elevation changes. That fact makes the discrepancies in fastest lap a bit intriguing, similar to the statistics for the Shanghai circuit, as in 2004 Schumacher ran 1:30.2 while last year the fastest lap, posted by Rosberg, came in at 1:37.0. The trend this year is for the cars to hit a pace a bit faster than last year. Fernando Alonso is currently the most successful driver at the circuit, having won three times, but Vettel and Hamilton are nipping at his heels with two wins each. Nico Rosberg won last year’s race.