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Column: Could Alonso’s win at Le Mans be final check box before coming to IndyCar?

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By being part of the winning premier team in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Fernando Alonso not only made a statement, he also potentially ratcheted up predictions about his future.

His Le Mans win adds to two previous Formula One championships and two wins at Monaco. Sure, he competed in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, but fell short of taking the checkered flag.

And with so many rumors already in the web-o-sphere that Alonso and McLaren will be moving to the Verizon IndyCar Series next season, Sunday’s Le Mans triumph only furthered the likelihood that he will soon put places like Monaco, Melbourne, Shanghai, Singapore, Spa, Suzuka and Abu Dhabi in his rearview mirror for good.

Next likely destination in 2019: places like Indy (again), Texas, Sonoma, St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Toronto straight ahead for the soon-to-be (July 29) 37-year-old Spaniard.

If Alonso does make the move to IndyCar, it would not be for publicity or glory. Rather, it’d be about competition. After winning the F1 crown twice, and now having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there’s not a whole lot new for Alonso to accomplish.

With the exception of within IndyCar, that is.

Coming up short at Indianapolis in last year’s 500 likely still gnaws at him. He also took part earlier this year in his first-ever Rolex 24 At Daytona.

What better way to do something he has never done than to win an IndyCar championship, as well as an Indy 500 victory and potentially adding a Rolex 24 to his triumph at Le Mans.

He’d also have the potential of joining a very elite class of drivers that have won both the F1 and IndyCar titles, including Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacques Villeneuve and Mario Andretti.

Up until the time Alonso won Le Mans, it was anyone’s guess if he would come back to the U.S. to take on the best in the IndyCar Series.

But now, he has everything to gain and essentially nothing to lose. Officials with McLaren, the team he drives for in F1, have hinted just as strongly as Alonso has that it will also come to IndyCar in the near future, perhaps as early as 2019.

What’s more, McLaren’s boss, Zak Brown, founded the former Just Marketing Inc., one of the premier motorsports marketing firms (acquired in 2013 by Chime Communications Limited), that is still based in Indianapolis and has a number of IndyCar drivers and sponsors as clients.

Brown has just as much incentive to return to Indy and the IndyCar Series as Alonso. Brown is the money man and Alonso is the guy behind the wheel.

It’s a marriage that makes total sense for everyone involved.

And if it does happen, everyone also becomes a winner, including Brown, Alonso, IndyCar and particularly IndyCar fans. How many of the latter would love to see Alonso compete in IndyCar on a regular basis against the likes of defending Indy 500 winner Will Power, defending IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and so many more of today’s stars in the sanctioning body.

Even though his F1 championships came in 2005 and 2006, Alonso showed last year in the 500 that he still has plenty of talent left in his gas tank. And, to a point, he may be more suited for IndyCar racing than he still is in F1.

You could also make an argument that after 298 races, 32 wins and 97 podium finishes, maybe Alonso has grown tired of the F1 grind. Why else would he want to try his hand at Indy last year, the Rolex in Daytona this year, as well as this past weekend’s first-ever effort at Le Mans?

He welcomes new things, things he has never done before. Ergo, IndyCar is right in his wheelhouse, so to speak.

Up to this point, Alonso has been rather coy about whether he would consider coming full-time to IndyCar. He’s alluded to when the time and timing MIGHT be right.

He’s also said he still has a commitment to McLaren in F1 – at least through the remainder of this season.

But that’s not a guarantee by any means.

Yet with the win at Le Mans, the needle may have finally moved a few notches closer for Alonso coming to IndyCar, Indy and the like. He may have checked off the final check box he needed to before making a career change.

Let’s put yourself in Alonso’s place and think about this: If you’ve done everything there is to be done, you’re racing for a F1 team that is a mediocre seventh and nearly 100 points out of first place in the standings still with nearly two-thirds of the season remaining, and you haven’t won an F1 race in more than five years (2013), wouldn’t you be primed for a change?

Do you stay the course and hope and pray that a miracle will turn things around (likely won’t happen this year), or do you finish the F1 season and move on to what could be a promising second career overseas?

The choice is fairly obvious.

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F1: Recapping the past week’s news

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Grosjean Three Penalty Points Away from a One-Race Ban

Haas F1’s Romain Grosjean could face a one-race ban if he accrues three more penalty points, per Formula1.com.

Grosjean, who had seven penalty points to his name entering last week’s Grand Prix of Singapore was assessed two more for ignoring blue flags in last week’s race.

Grosjean was in the midst of a battle with Sergey Sirotkin as race leaders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen approached. FIA rules dictate that when a driver is given a blue flag, he or she must move over and let the faster car(s) through, irrespective of any in-race battle they may be involved in.

However, Grosjean continued to push Sirotkin as they battled for position, and did not immediately yield to Hamilton, which allowed Verstappen to close in.

Hamilton and Verstappen both eventually got by, though Hamilton was particularly alarmed by the incident.

“These guys were moving around … and they wouldn’t let me by,” he said in the aforementioned Formula1.com story. “It was definitely close and my heart was in my mouth for a minute.”

Grosjean did issue an apology afterward, and offered his side of the story.

“I’m sorry if I blocked anyone, it was not my intention,” Grosjean said. “I believe I did my best. I was fighting with Sergey, who was doing a little bit of go-kart racing out there. I couldn’t really slow down. Pierre [Gasly] was on my gearbox and Sergey was on my front wing. I passed him, then as soon as I passed him, I let Lewis by.”

Any driver who accumulates 12 penalty points in a span of 12 months is automatically handed a one-race ban. For Grosjean, his current tally began on October 29, 2017, meaning if he receives three more between now and October 29, 2018, he will be forced to sit out one race.

F1 Signs Sponsorship For In-Play Betting

Per BBC Sport, Liberty Media, which owns Formula 1, has signed a sponsorship rights agreement with Interregional Sports Group to develop and manage in-race betting platforms for grands prix.

The sponsorship, worth a reported $100 million U.S. dollars, would help generate “new ways to engage with the sport,” said managing director Sean Bratches in the BBC Sport story.

Liberty and F1 officials would also work with Sportradar, which collects and analyzes sports data, to track betting and ensure no fraudulent activities take place.

Arrivabene Takes Responsibility for Ferrari Missteps

Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has said he accepts full responsibility for the miscues Ferrari has made during the 2018 Formula 1 season.

“The only mistake you see in front of you is me. I’m responsible for the team,” Arrivabene said in a piece posted on Crash.net.

He added, “When the result is not coming, it’s my responsibility. Not the responsibility of Sebastian (Vettel) or the engineer or the responsibility of the mechanics. It’s my responsibility.”

The statement, made on the Friday press conference prior to the Singapore Grand Prix, is especially poignant in the wake of a somewhat clumsy Italian Grand Prix. The team faced criticism after Kimi Raikkonen scored the pole, ahead of the championship-contending Vettel.

Vettel, too, has not been infallible. Most notably, he had contact with Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap of the French Grand Prix, spinning Bottas and damaging Vettel’s front wing – Vettel eventually finished fifth – and he crashed while leading the German Grand Prix. These incidents are among multiple black marks that have blighted Vettel’s championship challenge.

However, despite the errors, Vettel remains unshaken ahead of the final six races of 2018.

“We don’t have to fear any track that is coming, our car is working well in every track, so there’s nothing to fear until the end of the season. Russia should suit our car, it’s getting better for us every year,” Vettel said in a separate Crash.net piece.

He added, “There are still a lot of races to go and points to score. I never believed we have the faster car by a large margin like people said, but I know we have a very good car.”

Currently, Vettel trails Hamilton by 40 points in the driver’s championship, while Ferrari trails Mercedes by 37 points in the constructor’s championship.

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