The World Endurance Championship ought to be making the most of motor sport media platforms struggling to find content during F1’s enforced shut down. But for that very reason, the WEC and Toyota will not be surprised this coming weekend when the focus is entirely on Fernando Alonso’s future rather than his more immediate plans for Sunday’s race at Silverstone.
The collision of events – Alonso being the only F1 driver in public circulation while, at the same time, remaining a source of rampant speculation – had not escaped the Spaniard’s attention as he posted an enigmatic tweet at the beginning of this week. Such a brief and meaningless video seems to have had the same irresistible effect on many bloggers as Sky F1 being offered an interview with Christian Horner.
With the chance of a third F1 title now a victim in part of Alonso’s spiky attitude during various attempts over the past 12 seasons, the hierarchy at both McLaren and F1 should be concerned about what Fernando does beyond Grand Prix racing, be it WEC, IndyCar, or a mixture of both.
If, as seems certain, the Indianapolis 500 is part of his Triple Crown focus, McLaren will be on the horns of a dilemma. Even though backing an Indy effort is the last thing the company’s racing division needs at a time of urgent restructuring, having Alonso go freelance would also allow free rein for the sort of criticism which comes readily to Fernando’s lips, even when on the McLaren payroll.
Similarly, any perceived inadequacies with the running of F1 will provide an easy source of disparaging comment when Alonso is prompted to stick the boot into a formula characterised by Indy regulars as overrated, overpaid and ‘over there’.
Nothing changes. That’s exactly what happened in 1992/93 when Nigel Mansell took himself off to IndyCar after failing to reach an accommodation with Williams-Renault at the end of his championship year. In an unfortunate transatlantic switch, Michael Andretti travelled the other way to make a torrid F1 debut as Ayrton Senna’s team-mate at McLaren – but not before Andretti had left Mansell a Lola-Ford in a priceless state of development after setting a record 1136 laps in the lead during Michael’s 1992 campaign with Newman Haas.
Mansell beat favourites Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracey to pole position at Surfers Paradise and went on to win the opening round after a titanic battle with the Penske-Chevrolets. But the headlines zoned in on condemnation by Mansell of his former employer rather than covering his commendable success in the first race of what was an alien championship for the Englishman.
Having repeated at length how Williams had apparently conspired against him, Mansell said he had watched Alain Prost (signed by Williams for 1993) speed to an easy win at the opening round of the F1 championship in South Africa. Apparently missing the irony of his own position at Newman Haas, Mansell remarked that Prost had merely stepped into a car that ‘others’ had turned into a race-winning proposition.
A painful experience after backing his Lola into the wall on the Phoenix oval probably allowed Nigel too much thinking time in recovery as he went on to castigate Prost and praise Senna (a driver he had once warmly greeted by the throat following a collision at Spa) after McLaren had beaten Williams at Monaco.
Mansell’s brave recovery brought third place at Indy and a fine win a week later on the less celebrated but arguably more difficult and bumpy one-mile oval at Milwaukee. With his season on a roll, Mansell went on to create history by winning back-to-back championships in such vastly different disciplines.
A year later Mansell decided perhaps Williams and F1 were not rubbish after all as he returned in the tragic aftermath of Senna’s death at Imola and won the final race of the 1994 season in Adelaide.
Alonso will turn 38 next July (Mansell was 41 on his comeback) but, whatever may be reported and speculated this week and beyond, it’s probably best not to assume anything in this business.