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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Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500