Fernando Alonso to retire from F1 at season’s end; could IndyCar be next?

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Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso announced today that he will retire from racing in the series at the end of the current season.

Alonso, who captured back-to-back F1 championships in 2005 (becoming the youngest driver at the time to do so in F1 annals) and 2006, will end his overall career and a four-year stint with McLaren, an organization that has struggled for results and performance over the last few seasons.

Alonso, 37, is in his 17th full-time F1 season, having made his debut in the global series in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix. He currently sits ninth in the standings with just 44 points, compared to series leader Lewis Hamilton’s 213 points.

Alonso, a native of Oviedo, Spain, has made 303 career starts in F1, capturing 32 wins, 97 podium finishes and 22 poles.

However, he has struggled miserably at times, particularly over the last five seasons. His last win came in 2013 and his last podium finish came in 2014.

MORE: Column: The sooner Fernando Alonso (hopefully) comes to IndyCar, the better

In addition to his two championship-winning seasons while racing for Renault, Alonso also finished runner-up in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons, and ended up third in 2007.

“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” Alonso said in a statement. “I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one.

“There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever.”

Alonso has been strongly rumored to potentially compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series starting next season.

He reportedly was going to drive for a McLaren-owned team — or a potential partnership between McLaren and an existing IndyCar team such as Andretti Autosport — but those plans appear to have fallen through as McLaren recently announced it is committed and focused first and foremost on improving its lot in F1.

McLaren boss Zak Brown said in a statement that Alonso is “the pre-eminent driver of his generation.”

“There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his,” Brown said. “We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career. Our open dialogue with Fernando has meant we could plan for this eventuality.

“While evaluating his future during the past months, Fernando’s competitiveness has been undimmed. He has continued to perform at the highest level throughout, as we know he will do in the remaining nine races of this year’s championship.”

Could Alonso still come to IndyCar? There’s no question several teams would be interested, including Andretti Autosport, for whom he competed in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Other teams that are reportedly interested in him include Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Speaking of the latter, Scott Dixon announced yesterday that he has agreed to a new multi-year extension to remain with CGR. And, team owner Chip Ganassi after cutting back from four to two teams for 2018, did not completely rule out the possibility of adding a third team in 2019, which could present an attractive option for Alonso, who is a longtime friend of Dixon’s.

Prior to Monday’s announcement, several rumors had linked Dixon joining Alonso at McLaren, either in F1 or IndyCar. Now, it’s anyone’s guess if Alonso will come to IndyCar or potentially drive in other series, including the World Endurance Championship or IMSA.

“Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner,” Alonso said. “I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures.”

In June, Alonso won the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race in his first attempt. That gave him the second part of motorsport’s unofficial “triple crown,” having twice previously won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Alonso has spoken at length previously about how he’d love to become only the second driver in history – joining Graham Hill – to complete the triple crown with a win in the Indianapolis 500.

Now, that potential opportunity looks even bigger than ever, given Tuesday’s announcement.

However, Alonso also hinted that he could still potentially rejoin McLaren in the future.

“I want to thank everyone at McLaren,” he said. “My heart is with the team forever.

“I know they will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy.”

In a video letter he posted on Twitter, Alonso thanked F1 officials and fellow teams and drivers for what has been a spectacular career.

Among his comments in that video letter:

“We had very good times, some unforgettable, others really bad. We have played together, against incredible rivals. You played with me, and I learned how to play with you too.

“I have seen you changing, sometimes for good, sometimes in my opinion for bad. Every time I close the visor of my helmet I feel your warm embrace, your energy, there is nothing like it.

“But today I have some other bigger challenges than those you can offer me. And this year, while I am still driving at my best, is how I want to remember you.

“I can only be grateful to you and to the people that are part of you, for having introduced to me so many cultures, traditions, languages, wonderful people, for having been my life.

“I know you love me, be certain that I love you too.”

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Previous F1 competition doesn’t guarantee IndyCar success at COTA

Manor F1 Photo
Manor F1 Photo
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AUSTIN, Texas – Familiarity does not breed success, according to three NTT IndyCar Series drivers who have previous experience at Circuit of the Americas in the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Several other drivers, including IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, competed in the LMPC IMSA race in 2017.

Although the course is the same – 20-turns and 3.41-miles – the cars are completely different. The highly-advanced, technologically-driven Formula One cars are advanced beyond the realm of anything allowed in the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s more about the driver in IndyCar, which uses an impressive, but simpler formula to help showcase driver skill more than technology in its races.

Money buys speed in Formula One, but an IndyCar team doesn’t need a $400 million budget to go racing. It can get by on $5 millions to $10 million a year and contend for plenty of race victories and championships.

Andretti Autosport star Alexander Rossi drove in five Formula One races with Manor in 2015. The above photo is from his only F1 contest at COTA that season. He was the first driver ever to turn laps at COTA shortly after it was constructed in 2012.

Rossi had his best F1 finish in the 2015 United States Grand Prix when he started 17thand finished 12th.

“When I’ve come here in the past, I came into the weekend fully knowing that there was no chance to ever really do anything from a results perspective,” Rossi said. “To could come here to a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at, not necessarily driven a whole lot, but spent a huge amount of time at. To come into this weekend’s race, competing on a level where we have as good a shot as any, to win the race would be pretty cool.

“There’s kind of an almost unfinished business box that we’d like to tick here in some way. I’m very excited to get the weekend started.”

Chilton raced the entire F1 season in 2013 and 2014 with Marussia. He started 21stand finished 21stin 2013. He started in the first 16 races during the 2014 F1 season but was out of a ride by the time F1 arrived at COTA that season.

Me and Alex probably had pretty similar experiences,” Chilton told NBC Sports.com “Obviously the more laps are better — but the car we were in, we weren’t doing much racing, so the sort of racing experience part isn’t going to help.

“It’s good to be back. I first came here in 2013 for the (United States) Grand Prix. I loved the track. I love the city. I really enjoyed the whole facility, the race track. It’s a pretty long track in an Indy car but it’s got lots of overtaking potential for us and hopefully we’ll put on a great show.

“It’s great to have an English band like Muse on Saturday night, as well.”

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has the most experience at COTA of any driver in the field for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic. He competed in 97 F1 contests from 2014-2018 before becoming an IndyCar rookie with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season.

Ericsson was 15thin 2015, 14thin 2016, 15thin 2017 and 10thin last year’s USGP.

“I’ve been here quite a few times,” Ericsson said. “It’s one of the best tracks on F1 and I think it’s great we are going here with INDYCAR. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“The racing should be very good. It’s already good on F1 on this track and from what I’ve done in INDYCAR, it’s going to be a really good show from everyone and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ericsson emphasized that the his F1 experience does not necessarily give him any type of advantage in an IndyCar.

“I think for me I was here a couple months ago in F1 doing the race in ’18. I had all my reference points and then I did the first run and realized that didn’t really work,” Ericsson explained to NBC Sports.com “So I don’t know that the experience — it’s good to know the track, but then the Indy cars are very different cars to the F1 (car) so you have to sort of drive it quite differently and in the end, I think it didn’t really help the maximum amount in my opinion.

“The problem is we had two days of testing already in IndyCar. If we had come here straightaway without any testing it would be an advantage of one hundredth approximate. But now, if you don’t get the track in two days, I don’t think you would be in IndyCar.

“I don’t think it’s a big advantage now going into the weekend.”

But every little bit helps and if all of those little “bits” of information are added up, previous experience can provide a benefit in the race.

“For sure there’s things I can bring from my experience there that helps in INDYCAR, but the Indy car to drive today is different than the Formula One cars with the power steering and everything,” Ericsson continued. “I think it’s two different cars and what I found here on the test; things that worked in the F1 car didn’t really work in the Indy car. I think both cars of very difficult to be fast in but in different ways.

“For sure my experience in F1, it’s helped me to get into INDYCAR.”

James Hinchcliffe, who has never driven in Formula One, or at COTA, believes he has the best experience of any driver in Austin this weekend.

“I know where the restaurants are, so that’s cool,” Hinchcliffe said.