Bob McMurray: Can Alonso succeed where others failed
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It seems a bit ridiculous to me that the biggest news around the Formula 1 scene at the moment is set around a driver who is leaving that scene, albeit temporarily, for other pastures.
At least the McLaren Formula 1 team hope the situation is temporary but time will tell.
In doing so and although the circumstances of his foray into the Indianapolis 500 are nothing if not unique, Fernando Alonso is treading a well worn path from East to West.
From the European based and highly intercontinental Formula 1 to the US centric and domestic series that is IndyCar racing.
Many, although by no means all, of those who have walked that path have done so out of either a frustration that they could not secure a drive in F1 or that they simply were not good enough to do more than the very occasional race at the beginning of their careers and then saw the shifting sands of high level motorsport bringing on the next new ‘superstar’ to overwhelm and eclipse them.
There have been those who have gone on to succeed in IndyCar but so too have there been failures.
A look at the current IndyCar field shows up about twelve Formula 1 nearly or also-rans.
For those that have any reasonable amount of success there can be a living to be made in the USA that would not be possible by hanging on to the periphery of Formula 1 as the level of talent from just below the top tier to the back of the grid in IndyCar racing appears far lower than that required to drive a Formula 1 car efficiently and quickly.
Over the years there have been many who have tried to come the other way, from IndyCar (or CART or ChampCar to give the series it’s most recent past names) but by and large without any great success.
I must make a disclaimer here and I very definitely do NOT include Scott Dixon in that bracket as, with his history of road racing in New Zealand as a foundation of his career, he could quite easily have been at the forefront of Formula 1 had his test sessions with the Williams F1 team in 2004 not been rain affected and been a little more fair to the driver.
However all that is history and Scott is now in the top five of the most successful IndyCar drivers of all time.
Not a bad outcome for him.
Those few that have excelled in the ‘west to east’ drift have been very good indeed and perhaps the greatest name, and in my opinion one of the greatest drivers of all time, is that of Mario Andretti.
Although born in Italy and with a strong European grounding, he really started racing on the dirt tracks of the Mid-West but went on to win multiple IndyCar races before coming to F1, then yet more IndyCar races and the Indy 500 while he was still racing in F1 and more again after he had finished with F1. In 1978 he also won the Formula 1 Drivers Championship.
Unfortunately his son Michael was totally unable to replicate or even come close to his fathers Formula 1 career, even failing to complete a full season in the series while driving for McLaren with Ayrton Senna as team leader in 1993.
There were other drivers to taste success but they were mainly in the earlier years of Formula 1 when the cars were perhaps not so sophisticated (read complicated) as they became later on.
Names such as Mark Donahue, Peter Revson and more recently Canadian Jacques Villeneuve and Columbian Jean Pablo Montoya, World Champions both, with the latest American star being Alexander Rossi who experienced five F1 Grands Prix without scoring a point and went back to the USA and IndyCar only to win the Indy 500 at his first attempt.
I have no doubt that; despite the sometimes-dubious driving standards we see at some Grand Prix, those drivers that actually make it to the grid on a regular basis are, in general, the very best drivers in the world at what they do.
Of course every form of competitive driving demands very particular styles.
Formula 1 drivers have not made champion rally drivers; Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica are proof of that.
IndyCar drivers of recent years have not been able to penetrate the secrets of driving a Formula 1 car and it has to be said that Formula1 drivers have often found it difficult to cope with the very peculiar demands of driving at 370 km/h with a very solid wall just centimetres from the right shoulder while in a train of cars just centimetres from the left shoulder.
The very best IndyCar drivers are exceptionally good at doing what they do but even those seasoned professionals will say that is scary!
The world of IndyCar racing is a totally different planet to that of Formula 1, socially and atmospherically as well as on the track.
Drivers actually speak to each other, as well as to the fans and teams work together so the paddock area for the Grand Prix at Sochi this weekend will be as a ghost town to that of the Indy 500.
So, will Alonso, as a Formula 1 Champion, succeed where others have failed?
That is very much to be seen but to follow in the footsteps of Emerson Fittipaldi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Graham Hill and Jim Clark he will need all the tools in his box of tricks.
He clearly has the determination and talent and that, combined with a winning team running his car, advice and coaching from the best people available and I believe a strong realisation that the experience will be a major challenge, should allow him to perform well.
What could possibly go wrong?