Fernando Alonso makes Fast Nine shootout in first qualifying

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INDIANAPOLIS – In his first ever four-lap qualifying attempt for the Indianapolis 500, Fernando Alonso has lived up to the hype – and the potential – he’s displayed this week in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry.

Alonso’s four laps of 230.337, 230.260, 229.845 and 229.696 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway ensured a four-lap average of 230.034 mph, which held up for seventh and puts him into the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday, one of four Andretti Autosport cars (out of six) to make it in. Alonso was locked in with three more drivers to run, following ex-Andretti driver Carlos Munoz’s run.

Alonso went through the media bullpen after his run, while track activity was on hold following clean-up after Sebastien Bourdais’ accident.

Working with engineer Eric Bretzman and the rest of the Andretti team, Alonso said he felt comfortable with the setup going into his first single-car qualifying attempt on an oval.

“Well we decided yesterday after some runs that we did and we felt comfortable,” Alonso told NBC Sports. “But today we were talking constantly, all day long. At the beginning with the weather, that creates stress because you only have one attempt, one shot, so you need to put everything right in place from the beginning to the end.

“But we didn’t touch the car. The decisions we made yesterday, we just kept it because we didn’t know what the weather was doing, what the wind was doing, what the temperature is doing, so we said we’ll keep the same. We knew that this worked yesterday so we’ll see it today.”

Alonso described the feel of going through the first of two days of qualifying.

“I think with a normal qualifying, that’s great. The people can see a lot of cars on the track for many hours today and many hours tomorrow,” he said.

“With the weather today, obviously everything changed and it’s still OK. I think you have the possibility today to make some setup changes, to think about how you went, what to improve for tomorrow, and tomorrow to put in that perfect lap we want one day as a driver.”

As for whether he can realistically expect the pole position tomorrow?

“I think we need to see. I think everyone will pick up speed tomorrow after today’s run,” he said.

“We will tune a little bit the car and try to get it a bit more competitive tomorrow. But when I close the visor, you have to be sure I will go for it.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.