INDIANAPOLIS — Two-time Formula One World Champion. 32 F1 wins including two of which in the Monaco Grand Prix. Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona winner. 24 Hours of LeMans winner.
That’s as big as they come in a motorsports career. But, for Fernando Alonso, he’s wanting more. Alonso, 38, is still chasing an Indianapolis 500 triumph. The Spaniard, has tried twice, but only one of those two did he actually make the race.
He’s not giving up until he can sip that cold milk in victory lane. On Tuesday, Alonso announced that he’d pilot the No. 66 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren SP for this year’s 104th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Last year, well that was a debacle that left a bad taste in Alonso’s mouth. He couldn’t leave like that. He’s not a quitter.
“No, I was 100 percent sure that I would come back,” Alonso said on a conference call on Wednesday on if he’d want to come back after how everything went last May. “I think after finishing the world championship I made it very clear, I think from September, October, November, that the biggest priority for 2020 was the Indy 500. I said in September, November, in January, in the middle of the Dakar, when we finished the Dakar, I said, so now I’ve finished with Dakar and the main priority is the Indy 500. I always said before, during and after, that race is just magic. I love everything that is happening there.
“Last year, yes, we failed. Last year we were not ready for the challenge. But the sport is full of these examples. You need to fail many times to learn and maybe to achieve the success once in life. For one success there are hundreds of failures.
“Last year it was a hard one for everyone, but maybe it was a necessity to become better and to be stronger this year and to have a shot. You know, all the things happen for one reasons, and I’m sure last year was a good learning.
“This year I want to go there even more compared to last year and try to delete that feeling and try to experience the event from the beginning to the end with nice momentum.”
Alonso, said that it was no secret, a comeback to McLaren wasn’t his first option. He talked to Andretti about a return but unfortunately, Honda wouldn’t allow it.
“It’s true that I looked at other options,” said Alonso. “Racing for Andretti in 2017 was one of my preferred choices, as well, in terms of projects, and yes, more or less I think in November the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix, I said clear more or less that my options were the Indy 500 were, first off, to race, because I wanted to have another attempt, and maybe the choices between Andretti or McLaren with a new project that they were working with the Schmidt Peterson team. But those were the thoughts at that time at the end of last year.
“I think going through the process, probably it started in probably October last year when I started looking at some options. I knew that my McLaren ambassador contract expired at the end of 2019, so I didn’t have any obligations to race for McLaren in 2020. But obviously I will be always in contact with them for whatever future projects.
“The final decision was not easy because I think between Andretti and McLaren, maybe people think that Andretti can be more competitive, maybe other people will think that it could be McLaren, and that’s something that is difficult to know in advantage before the race happens, but you know, I think and I trust this project a little bit more, and I have this sense of loyalty, as well, to McLaren and to our fans that last year they had high hopes, as we have, and didn’t show up on the race on the big weekend.
“I think we have this kind of — not obligation, but this kind of feeling that we need to give something back, and this year we will go for it.
“I waited until the end of January to go deep on the conversations and finalizing what will be the Indy 500 deal, and from that moment, yeah, two weeks later, I arrived at an agreement with McLaren and with a new team now that for sure is going to be more prepared than last year.”
Alonso, said that being a one car team last year was a detriment and while they’re going to be very young this year, at least having three cars worth of data should already put them ahead.
“I think being a one-car team, it was a big penalty for us last year. We had a couple of issues. We had not the real ability that we wanted in the first couple of tests, and obviously we didn’t have much information.
“This year with three cars, even if you have a bad day, you’re still learning a lot of things from the other two cars. So I think that will be a good advantage, plus the team is not new, it’s been racing for many, many years in IndyCar, and the background and all the knowledge I think is going to be very beneficial with the things that McLaren can add to that project. It was a project that was already existing. So that’s the second thing.”
A third thing is the addition of Craig Hampson to the organization. That was a big selling point to sway Alonso back.
“Well, that was one of the biggest parts of the decision, as well,” said Alonso about the hiring that Arrow McLaren SP made of Hampson. “Everyone was telling me that Craig Hampson was the man to work with, with so much experience, and making the difference in many of the races and championships on the last couple of decades in IndyCar. Obviously that’s very attractive, to work with this kind of people that make a difference, and you can learn a lot from a driver point of view, as well, from the team and the engineers, and then the COTA test. Obviously I wanted to wait, as well, for the COTA test, even if everything was already done and we all agree on all the terms, COTA test was also a nice thing to really look at the team from the outside, how things were working together and gluing together.
“I think they had a very, very positive test, and that was also good news for me, as well.”
Alonso, cares about this race more than anything else he’s ever competed in and a big check mark on his list he’s hoping to add.
“One of those days that you announce the participation in one of these iconic races, which is always very special, and it’s no different this time, even if it’s the third attempt. It feels like the first one, and you feel that the month of May is going to be an important one once more for your career and for your emotions because it’s quite an emotional race and all the things that are happening around that event are quite special.
“I’m really looking forward. There are no other goals at this point of my career. I don’t need really to do this kind of challenges. I’ve been in Formula 1 18 years. I have achieved more things than I ever imagined, than I ever dreamed in my career, and if I am doing now this big, big races, the 24-Hour Le Mans, Daytona, Dakar, the Indy 500, it’s only with the aim of winning.
“Winning is the main aim. Obviously I want to be competitive, as well, and have a nice feeling, but these kind of races, sometimes they chew at you more than being super competitive. Sometimes the lack of so many factors can influence these kind of events. That’s something that we will try to follow and try to win it, so that’s the only aim.”