Could it happen? Would it happen?
In the aftermath of Nico Hulkenberg winning last week’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the magnitude that carries on the worldwide motorsports scale, it hearkens back nicely to the days when the modern gladiators could race in all different forms of motorsport, rather than being specialized in one discipline.
Our NBC Sports Group F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton suggested the possibility of drivers wanting or keen to do next year’s Indianapolis 500, which is the 100th running of the race.
Both Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda and Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari addressed the topic in Thursday’s Austrian Grand Prix edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass.
“As I said there are three races in the world are very attractive: Indy 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in Monaco. The other races are more normal. Those three are something unique,” Alonso told Buxton.
“I love the experience of being [in Le Mans] last year, seeing the passion. After winning in Formula 1, winning that race would be very special. The way they are pushing all the laps in a consistent pace is very attractive from a driver point of view. You’re doing the same car for many hours. In F1, you drive a different car every lap. There are many things that are variable.”
Regarding Indianapolis, Alonso replied to a bit of laughter, “Maybe, you know? I’m very young. If I shave, I’m very young.”
Vettel, who has a decent fan base in North America and has made several promotional appearances in the country – notably a 2012 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman – hailed both the U.S. and Canada.
“Well unfortunately we only go there twice or once, once to U.S, and twice to North America,” Vettel told Buxton. “Racing there is always great, with a lot of fans coming. It’s one of the greatest races in the history of racing. If you look back a long way. Yeah there’s a couple of big events happening around the globe. Indy 500 is one of them.”
Here’s what he had to say when asked about Indianapolis.
“I know, I’ve seen that as well, the 100th anniversary. There’s no clash, but it’s not that easy to jump in. Unless you’re Nico Hulkenberg! Then you can do it. Just jumping in and doing a good job, oval racing is very different to racing in Formula 1.”
So that sets the scene, and it’s at this point we come to the thorny and inevitable next step of the calendar, which dictates all in terms of feasibility.
If there is no clash as suggested, that moves the Monaco Grand Prix either a week earlier to May 22 or a week after to June 5, and most likely it would be earlier as the third weekend in May. The 100th Indianapolis 500 has been announced for May 29.
Qualifying weekend for the Indianapolis 500 will be May 21-22. Almost certainly, the opening day of practice would be Sunday, May 8, before the track is converted over to road course specifications for the third Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis that runs May 12-14.
Assuming neither the May 8 or May 22 weekend has an F1 date on it, and provided Vettel (for sure) and Alonso (almost certainly) are still in F1 in 2016, they’d be available for those two preliminary weekends. The Spanish Grand Prix could run on either the May 6-8 or May 13-15 weekend.
As Vettel says though, you can’t just jump in and go for oval racing, and realistically that would mean at some point in the latter stage of 2015 a team would need to work out the details to provide either driver a preliminary test at the Speedway.
The Kurt Busch planning for 2014 began in May of 2013, when Andretti Autosport rolled a car out for him to do his rookie orientation, then announced in April 2014 that Busch would be competing in a fifth car in the Indianapolis 500. Busch, of course, won that year’s rookie-of-the-year honors.
Again, we return to the calendar. F1 heads for its summer break following the Hungarian Grand Prix on July 26 and is off until the Belgian Grand Prix August 23.
IndyCar has two weekends off after its Mid-Ohio race August 2. So in that two-week period before Spa, IndyCar teams could be available to run a car for an ROP test.
The catch there from an IMS scheduling standpoint is that August 7-9 is the MotoGP weekend on the road course. That takes the first of two off weeks out of play; however, the track could be open from there.
IndyCar ends its schedule on August 30 in Sonoma. There’s roughly a month to a month and a half from that point that could see usable track time before temperatures get too cold to utilize IMS.
F1’s schedule is hectic in September with three weekends racing, in Monza, Singapore and Suzuka.
F1 of course heads Stateside in October with the fourth United States Grand Prix in Austin on October 25. Could a window of possibility exist in-between the Russian Grand Prix on October 11 and the USGP two weeks later?
So that’s the schedule situation.
But the schedule only becomes something to sort if McLaren, Honda or Ferrari is OK with one of its World Champion drivers, A. having interest, B. acknowledging the interest, and C. allowing that interest to grow into something more – as Force India has done with Hulkenberg in allowing him to race at Le Mans.
Hey, at least Honda and JR Hildebrand have already talked about this on social media, and that’s half the battle itself.
Is it a likely scenario? Not really. Is it possible, provided all parties agree to it happening for the good of the sport, and the good of the 100th 500? Certainly.
Would it be absolutely mega if it happened? Completely.