After attempting the Indy 500 in three of four years, Aug. 23 will mark the last trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway by Fernando Alonso for at least the next two years.
Alonso confirmed Tuesday that a full-time return to Renault next season will preclude the Indianapolis 500 from his schedule for 2021-22.
Though there won’t be an F1 race that falls on the Indy 500 next year – the Monaco Grand Prix will take place a week earlier than the Brickyard on May 23, 2021 – Alonso still would miss qualifying, and he said his deal with Renault wouldn’t allow for a hall pass as McLaren did in 2017.
INDY 500 PRACTICE: Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown recently had left open the possibility of Alonso returning in the 2021 Indy 500, but the driver quashed any hope Tuesday.
“I think I approach the (Indy 500) knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come,” Alonso, who signed with Renault in July, said during a Zoom media availability. “I will have to miss qualifying weekend if I wanted to do so. I will not be any more with McLaren next year in F1. That will not work either. I know at least for two years, I will not be here.
“This is the way it is at the moment. I’m here ready to enjoy the event, ready to give my best, and help the team as much as I can. Let’s see in the future what are the possibilities. If you eventually win one day the race, maybe that opens the possibility for different things.”
Last commitments of the day, and we are ready to start the practice tomorrow. #indy500 #66 Thanks @ArrowMcLarenSP @RuoffMortgage #progressive @Kimoa @MissionFoodsUS @BangOlufsen @DUELIT_official @Richard_Mille ! ✊️ pic.twitter.com/JJUKhrif26
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) August 11, 2020
After failing to qualify for the Indy 500 last year, Alonso is guaranteed to make this year’s event (which will have 33 entrants to fill its field exactly), and he should have a much better shot at victory given the early season success of Arrow McLaren SP teammates Pato O’Ward, 21, and Oliver Askew, 24.
O’Ward, who is in his first full season in NTT IndyCar Series, nearly won the July 12 race at Road America, and Askew, a rookie, finished third July 17 at Iowa Speedway.
“I was very impressed, definitely,” Alonso, 39, said about the team, which spent the past few days getting him comfortable at its Indianapolis shop after his arrival in the United States last week. “I think I was watching all the races from TV with attention because I knew that the test day we had in April was canceled. The simulator days that we had programmed were canceled. I knew it was very limited time for me on the car before the 500. I wanted to know how the team was performing every weekend.
“It was very impressive what both did. I knew that they are very talented, very brave. It is going to be a huge boost for the team to have these two young drivers, talented drivers, bringing fresh ideas, fresh in terms of car performance, and I’m looking forward to work with everybody.”
Welcome to Arrow McLaren SP, @alo_oficial. 🤜🤛
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— Arrow McLaren SP (@ArrowMcLarenSP) August 8, 2020
Though he led 27 laps before finishing 24th because of an engine failure in his 2017 Indy 500 debut, Alonso downplayed his chances Tuesday and noted he was “aware of maybe not being among the favorites because we lack the experience.”
He also said it was “going to be a shock on race day” to compete without fans, whom he called “the magic part of the 500.
“The fans around the garages, the interaction you have with them,” he said. “I will miss a lot that part, especially the races here in the U.S. They are all very special. Racing at Daytona, Sebring, there is always this close contact with the fans. That will be really missed.
“Probably my life outside the car will be a little bit easier so I don’t need to run away. Sometimes I can go to the bathroom with no phone cameras pointed at me. Apart of that, I think when you close the visor and you are racing, it will be the same pressure. Being in this huge place with these huge grandstands, not having a full, packed grandstand on Sunday is going to be a little bit difficult. But we will put a good show on television where we will make somehow big thanks to the fans and celebrate with them even on a distance.”
Along with marking Alonso’s last Indy 500 for a while, the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET on NBC; green flag 2:30 p.m.) also will be the two-time Formula One champion’s last major event this year.
After racing nonstop last year (winning the Rolex 24 and 24 Hours of Le Mans) and starting this year with the Dakar Rally, Alonso is slowing down to acclimate for re-entry into F1. Aside from simulator work and attending a few F1 races with Renault, it’ll be a “quite easy second part of the year.
“Last year, it was too much,” Alonso said. “It was too active. I had the full attack season. (In) 2020 I wanted to relax a little bit. The second part of the season, just relax, charge the batteries. Coming back to F1, I knew it could be very demanding.”