It’s kind of strange that as we go into the biggest and most glamorous weekend of the F1 calendar a lot of the eyes will be trained away from the Jewel in the Crown of the F1 calendar, to the city of Indianapolis where a certain Fernando Alonso will be racing in the Indy 500 for the very first time.
So let’s talk about Alonso and this particular Super Speedway for a little. We haven’t had a current F1 driver still at his peak do Indy Cars since Nigel Mansell in 1993 and he didn’t do so badly, winning the title in his first year. Could Alonso do that? Could he go to the largest attended race in the world and take the win as a rookie?
He’s certainly with one of the best, if not the best team in the business– Andretti Racing, who have also won the 500 last year with Alexander Rossi. Alonso’s rapid progress since he first stepped into an Indy car over a month ago has given the pundits further confidence that he might win it – in qualifying he put his car fifth on the grid for the race this Sunday.
I remember my first and only race (so far) on a super speedway. It was in Champ Car racing at the the Euro Speedway in Lausitz, Germany in 2003. The experience was completely different from anything I’d done before. You have to build up to it like a street track but at the same time you cannot attack it. On a speedway, you really have to let the car work for you. At those high speeds, trying to make a car do what it doesn’t want to will put you in the wall all the time.
The speed gets you in the beginning too with most of the lap spent above 300kph. You get used to that quite quickly as a driver although I know some who don’t. What does get you is the racing. I only did this kind of race once, but it was one of the most thrilling days of my life. Constantly drafting and being drafted, it makes MotoGp look like a snooze fest.
How did I do in the end? Not so bad, we qualified 13th and were running 7th or something like that when the drive shaft broke not far from the end. I was driving with Dale Coyne Racing and the driver that took pole that weekend and won, was Sebastian Bourdais.
Strangely enough he races for Dale Coyne now and you might have heard about him recently because he’s not doing the race this year after fracturing his pelvis and hip in qualifying. That’s the rub of this race. It is dangerous, a lot more than F1 is currently.
Alonso racing in the 500 is exciting. The biggest piece of news this year for us motorsport fans is seeing whether he can actually win it. McLaren are extremely brave for doing this, because as we saw with Bourdais, it’s not about just column inches, it’s about getting your driver back safely. And in Alonso’s case- so he can do the job he was originally being paid for- which is to drive an F1 car very fast.
As a fan and a member of the press I love that Mclaren are doing this Indy adventure. Especially because I know if I was in their position with the stakes so high I’d not risk it. For their sake I do hope they have success and when I say success I mean that their driver comes back in one piece, motivated and keen. And that they haven’t taken away from their focus, meaning they are at the very least back winning races next year.
Okay so onto Monaco.
It’s the tightest, slowest race of the year and the championship battle is nicely poised with Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) evenly matched so far.
A lot has been made about the longer wheelbase Mercedes perhaps struggling around the Monaco course compared to the Ferrari’s shorter more nimble wheelbase. There are many trade offs between long and short wheelbases and teams try for the best compromise. A longer wheel base gives the car more stability, especially in fast corners and under braking, while a short wheel base make for a more nimble car, more suitable for short tight corners such as those in Monaco.
However the differences are small- and what would have a far bigger effect- is downforce. Never forget that in a F1 car, downforce is king. From what I saw in Barcelona, Mercedes have plenty of it in hand. They didn’t just out race Ferrari to the win, they were also a lot quicker through the tight twisty third sector of the lap. Their updates worked really well in the slow to medium corners and on that bit of evidence it makes Mercedes favourites over Ferrari this weekend.
The other dark horse for the weekend will be Red Bull. They should have won here last year with Danial Ricciardo and I think they will be a lot more competitive this weekend as well. As always it will come down to qualifying and the good thing about street tracks are that drivers can make the difference. So lets not count out one or two drivers surprising this weekend.
After that eyes will definitely turn to America to see if another F1 driver might just make a difference in another rather big race in the wee hours of Monday morning.