The unreliability of Honda engines driven by Fernando Alonso in 2017 carried over to the Indianapolis 500.
The two-time Formula 1 champion proved why he’s one of the best drivers in the world during Sunday’s 500. He ran at the front of the field most of the day, passed cars in the draft with ease and led 27 laps. But his race ended with 21 laps to go because his Honda engine expired on the frontstretch.
“I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself,” Alonso said. “I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar.
“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500. One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking at that moment if [McLaren CEO Zak Brown] or someone from the team was taking a picture, because I want that picture at home.”
Alonso started fifth and immediately fell back at the start of the race. But he started picking cars off one by one and worked his way to the lead on lap 37. He stayed at the front of the field most of the race.
But then the ominous signs for the Honda engine powering him started appearing. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was forced to retire when his engine quit. Same for Honda-powered Charlie Kimball.
Alonso was able to enter the 2017 Indianapolis 500 because of how awful his McLaren Honda has been in Formula 1. He failed to finish the first three races of the season because of mechanical problems and didn’t even get to start the Russian Grand Prix after his car stopped working even before the race began.
Had Alonso been a contender for the Formula 1 title, he likely doesn’t skip the Monaco Grand Prix to try to win the Indy 500. But without a point to his name at the start of the season — a feat that wasn’t unexpected given Honda’s woes in 2016 — it was a no-brainer to head to Indy and try to win the fabled race.
He was fully capable of doing so. Alonso took to the track quickly through practice and qualifying. So quickly, that F1 champion Lewis Hamilton threw some shade towards IndyCar to L’Equipe. Via USA Today:
“I took a look at the qualifying results,” Hamilton chuckled, according to L’Equipe. “Fernando, in his first qualifying, came fifth. Does that say something about (the level) of Indy Car? Great drivers, if they can’t succeed in Formula One, look for titles in other races, but to see him come fifth against drivers who do this all year round is…interesting.”
While no one is arguing that IndyCar is at the same level as F1, the 500 is the first big oval race on the IndyCar calendar. And Alonso got the same practice time — plus rookie orientation — that other drivers got ahead of Sunday’s race.
And with a car that was one of the best in the field, it wasn’t unsurprising that Alonso was a threat. But it was a tad surprising just how well he worked the draft and was able to make passes entering Indianapolis’ treacherous 90-degree corners.
He was set to be a contender for the win … had his car gone the distance. It didn’t. He was seventh when his engine stopped working.
“Obviously when you are eighth, seventh, you know the last 20 laps were intense, but I was taking care a bit of the front tires in the first couple laps of that stint because I knew the race would be decided in the last six or seven laps.
“I think I had a little bit on the pocket before the engine blew up.”
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