May has been a good month for us motor racing fans. Not only did we have F1’s Jewel in the Crown- the Monaco Grand Prix- but also the Indy 500, and the Nurburgring 24 hours- which yours truly took part in. Even more hectic was that all three events fell on the same weekend, signifying that summer is properly here.
Lets start with Fernando Alonso and his first ever attempt of the Indianapolis 500. The double world champion has never tried to hide his desire of attempting to win the triple crown of motor racing. What is that I hear you ask? Well it’s an unofficial motorsports achievement of winning the three most prestigious motor races in the world: the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and the LeMans 24 hours. Only one driver has ever won it: Graham Hill.
Alonso has won Monaco twice along with his two world titles in ’05 and ’06. This year’s Indy attempt was a serious look at trying to win it in his rookie year. It was only made possible because Mclaren were trying to keep their driver interested in racing with them as this year has proven to be another trying year for the Spaniard. It’s the third year in a row that he has gone racing with no hope of race wins in F1 due to the uncompetitive package Mclaren has produced with their partner, Honda.
Alonso approached the month of May with the usual intensity and professionalism he always brings to his racing and it wasn’t with too much surprise to see him qualify his Mclaren Andretti machine in seventh position.
There were question marks on whether he could race however as oval racing is very different from circuit racing. He blew those concerns out of the water on Sunday by showing a very measured race before his Honda engine failed on lap 179 of 200. He lead for many laps and battled at the front the whole race before his failure. He would definitely have been challenging for the podium and possibly the win if not for his premature exit. Everyone was universally praising his first attempt at the 500 and Alonso said it was one of the best experiences of his life: high praise indeed.
Takuma Sato, who did F1 from 2002 to 2006 managed to win the 500 and he become the first Japanese to ever do it.
Over in Monaco, we saw the first Ferrari win that race since 2001. Sebastian managed to overtake his teammate Kimi Raikkonen during the pit stops, to firmly cement his lead at the top of the driver’s championship table. Championship rival Lewis Hamilton could only recover to seventh after a poor qualifying and was left scratching his head as he found it hard to extract pace from his Mercedes.
I had a couple thoughts from that weekend; firstly I was a little disappointed that Kimi was not able to convert his first pole position in years, to a win. He had done most of the hard work in qualifying and should have taken the win. The team pulled him in early for his one pitstop, and Vettel was able to over-cut him when he pitted a few laps later by recording some quick lap times. However when you are leading the Monaco Grand Prix, you really should be able to dictate what happens. Kimi should have gone for a later stop and if his tyres were going off, my question is: why was that happening? A clever driver knows that it’s impossible to overtake in Monaco and you can drive as slow as you like until you decide to stop. By doing this you conserve tyre life and are able to be quick when you need to be. I don’t think there were team orders in play and it’s simply down to Raikkonen not putting together a whole weekend, which he hasn’t been able to in years.
My second thought was on Hamilton and why he is struggling so much. I get that this year’s Mercedes is tricky to get into the right operating window, but the fact is that his teammate Valtteri Bottas was able to qualify in third, a tenth of pole. If Hamilton had been able to out qualify Bottas, there’s a good chance he would have been on pole and likely won the Monaco GP. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to be the quicker of the Mercedes duo. First it was Russia and now it’s Monaco. Hamilton cannot afford any more poor weekends like that, if he wants to beat Vettel to this year’s title.
The third race that happened on the last week of May was the Nurburgring 24hours. It’s not considered part of the Triple Crown, because frankly it’s not prestigious enough. However as far as driver thrills go, I actually think it’s one of the best, if not the best race around. Here’s why.
The Nurburgring 24hours goes on the old north loop of, as well as on, the grand prix track that makes it 25 kilometres in length. That’s over hundred corners of up and down, and blind bends per lap. In a GT3 car you’re over 260kph seven times a lap, and often over blind crests. We go down hill so much and so fast that in one spot your ears pop every lap. There is no greater driving challenge in the world and if I were in charge, I’d add this to the Triple Crown as another of the greatest races in the world to win.