Alonso’s ambition continues to leave the Formula 1 paddock guessing

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The driver market for the 2015 Formula 1 season has been one of the hottest topics for the paddock over the past few weeks. Ever since Sebastian Vettel confirmed in Japan that he would be turning his back on Red Bull for next year, tongues have been wagging with speculation of what the implications will be.

General consensus is that Vettel will be racing for Ferrari in 2015, following the example set by Michael Schumacher in the mid-90s when he plummed for a long-term project at Maranello that ultimately yielded five world championships and 72 grand prix victories.

So where does this leave Fernando Alonso? Earlier this month, we look at how he actually had very little room for manoeuvre following Vettel’s decision to call it quits at Red Bull. The team’s instant reaction was to promote Daniil Kvyat up from Toro Rosso, leaving Alonso with far less bargaining power for a possible move to McLaren.

Unquestionably, the car that everyone wants to drive at the moment is the Mercedes. The next opportunity for a seat with the German team comes in 2016 upon the expiration of Lewis Hamilton’s contract. Alonso’s hope is that the Briton will be on the move due to the deterioration of his relationship with teammate Nico Rosberg, thus leaving a seat open at the quickest team on the grid.

However, what is the likelihood of Hamilton bailing on Mercedes? He’s leading the world championship by 17 points at the time of writing, and is poised to clinch his second F1 title. He has been by far the class act in the field this season, winning more than half of the races that have been held. Him leaving simply doesn’t make sense.

So this leaves Alonso with plenty to think about. McLaren doesn’t want him for a season to then lose him, and elsewhere on the grid, there are no desirable seats on offer. It appears to be a pretty bleak outlook.

And yet Alonso is in high spirits. He feels very relaxed and happy about his future. He has claimed for some time that his next move is “so obvious”, and said yesterday in Austin that he has an “ambitious plan” which is currently falling into place.

And that’s the strange part about this. Moving to McLaren wouldn’t be dubbed an “ambitious plan”. It’s a pretty simple one, actually. So what else could it be?

There are a number of interesting theories currently being banded about the paddock. One that has arisen in recent weeks concerns German manufacturer Audi, which has been linked with an F1 entry in the not-too-distant future. It denied the reports, calling them “pure speculation”, and it appears to be a case of putting two and two together before coming to five. At the same point though, a project with the four rings does have plenty of ambition about it.

Another option would be a sabbatical, which many F1 greats have successfully utilized in the past. Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Kimi Raikkonen all took breaks from the sport before coming back still with the same spark as before. So what does Fernando think of this?

“I don’t think it would be damaging too much,” Alonso said. “The rules are exactly the same, and there were people going out and coming back without any big problems. The last example was Kimi, who came back and was very competitive straight away.

“But it’s unlikely,” he added.

It is important to consider what Fernando’s true ambition is. In reality, all he wants – and indeed, all that he has craved for almost eight years now – is a third world championship. It’s as simple as that.

For when he became the sport’s youngest ever double world champion in 2006, the world appeared to be at his feet. A big-money deal with McLaren had been long secured for 2007, and with them, he seemed to have a real shot at carving into many of Michael Schumacher’s records. Few would have expected him to be still stuck on two titles in 2014, particularly after five seasons with Ferrari.

He continues to say that what he is doing is not only best for him, but also best for Ferrari. It is difficult to read too much into this, given that the team looks to want rid of the Spaniard so it can usher in a new era with Vettel at the helm. Basically, leaving the team will be what is best for Ferrari – a subtle dig and parting shot from Alonso.

This ambitious plan is one that continues to leave the paddock perplexed. The only man who really knows where Fernando Alonso will be racing in 2015 is Fernando Alonso.

It could all be a very elaborate plot that does have us going “of course, we should have seen it!” when the announcement comes. For the time being though, we continue to speculate and ponder just what Alonso’s options are. Perhaps there really is more on offer than just McLaren?

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Even with half the purse and no fans, Indy 500 still has major team value

Indy 500 purse fans
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Even with reportedly half the purse and no fans in attendance, NTT IndyCar Series driver-owner Ed Carpenter believes it remains “absolutely critical” to hold the 104th Indy 500.

“Far and away it’s what makes and breaks our season as teams,” the Ed Carpenter Racing namesake told reporters during a Zoom media availability last week. “It’s the most important event to our partners. It 100 percent sucks not having fans there and not even being able to have the experience with our partners in full being there. But it’s necessary.

“We’ve got to look at all the hard decisions now of what we have to do to be in a position to have fans in 2021. It’s critical for the health of the teams that we have this race to make sure we have teams back here next year. That sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the reality.

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“We live in not only a very volatile world right now, but our industry and motorsport in general, it’s not an easy business to operate. When you lose your marquee event, it’s a lot different than looking at losing Portland on the schedule or Barber. They’re in totally different atmospheres as far as the importance to us and our partners.”

Robin Miller reported on RACER.com that IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske told team owners last week the purse for the postponed Indianapolis 500 was slashed from $15 to $7.5 million. Miller reported holding the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would be a $20 million hit to the bottom line.

Carpenter still is supportive of Penske’s “outstanding job” of leading the series through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Even with a 50 percent purse reduction, the Indy 500 remains the linchpin of teams’ economic viability.

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The schedule has taken many hits with the cancellation of races at Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, Detroit, Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Toronto, and another race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio has been indefinitely postponed.

That leaves the 2020 slate at 12 confirmed races of an original 17, which has raised questions about how many races teams need to fulfill sponsor obligations.

“It’s a moving target,” said Carpenter, who announced the U.S. Space Force as a new sponsor for the Indy 500. “I think we’ve been pretty blessed as a team with the level of commitment of our partners and their understanding of COVID-19 and the impact on our schedule, our contracts.

“All of it is out of our control, out of the series’ control, the promoter’s control. At the end of the day is there a firm number (of races) I can give? No. But definitely every one that we lose, it does make it harder to continue having those conversations.

I think everyone’s as confident as you can be right now with what we have in front of us with what’s remaining on the schedule. Things are so fluid, it changes day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. We just have to take it as it comes. Right now the focus is on the 500 and maximizing this month to the best we possibly can given the situation.”

That’ll be hard this month for Carpenter, who grew up in Indianapolis and is the stepson of Tony George, whose family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades.

Having spent a lifetime around the Brickyard, Carpenter will feel the ache of missing fans as he races in his 17th Indy 500.

Ed Carpenter, shown racing his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway last month, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second in the 2018 Indy 500 (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Over that time you develop relationships that are centered around standing outside of your garage in Gasoline Alley,” he said. “It stinks, it sucks that we don’t get to share that passion we all have that is the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately it’s the reality we’re in right now.

I think this is the best that we can do unfortunately. Without a doubt it’s going to be a different environment. You’re going to be missing the sounds and a lot of the sights and colors. For sure I’ve thought about it. It’s going to be a different morning, different lead-in to the race. After 16 of them, you have a cadence and anticipation for the buildup. That’s all going to be different this year.

“I’m confident it’s not going to affect the type of show we put on or the excitement and how aggressive we are fighting for an Indy 500 win. It’s still going to mean the same thing. We’re just not going to have our fans to celebrate with after the fact. But it’s going to be historic.”