Alonso in Indianapolis: F1 star 'electrifies' Indy500
Spanish driver has real chance of victory, but IndyCar racing could be the real winner
Fernando Alonso will be centre of attention on Sunday, despite being thousands of miles away from the F1 circus in Monaco.
The McLaren driver will instead be competing in the Indianapolis 500 and his decision to skip the most glamorous race on the Formula 1 circuit for a stab at glory on the other side of the Atlantic has "electrified" IndyCar fans, reports the LA Times.
"This is the first time in years that a driver who mainly competes in Formula 1 stepped away for the Indy 500, and Alonso’s move clearly lifted interest in this year’s race," says the paper.
Alonso was "flawless" in testing and last week qualified in fifth place for the 33-car race.
Victory in Indianapolis would secure him the second part of motor racing's triple crown: the Monaco Grand Prix; the Indy 500, and the Le Mans 24-hour race.
The only man to win all three is Graham Hill, but Alonso has won twice at Monaco already so adding the Indy500 title would inevitably lead to an assault on Le Mans.
For now, however, all eyes are on Indianapolis, where the driver has been spotted skateboarding around the paddock.
"He essentially turned the hallowed Brickyard into his own personal playground," says Associated Press.
"His presence has drawn massive worldwide interest to 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing', and given Alonso a break from his depressing F1 season with McLaren."
Fans have "breathlessly followed his every move" and even other drivers have been caught up in the excitement.
However, Briton Max Chilton, another former F1 driver who now races in IndyCar, says no one has been put out by Alonso's arrival.
He tells The Independent: "He’s in a good car, he could win it and I think that’s why he’s finding it exciting. But it’s a win for everyone. It’s a win for him because he’s having a good time, it’s a win for IndyCar because he’s brought over a fan base from Formula 1… I think the only loser potentially is Formula 1."
Chilton "speaks the truth", says the paper's Jack de Menezes. There is a chance the heightened interest in IndyCar will attract disillusioned F1 fans.
"Watch the 500 this Sunday and you’ll see a form of racing that simply cannot be seen on the F1 circuit. Its critics complain that watching 200 laps around the same 2.5-mile oval is boring and repetitive, but it is far from it.
"Cars regularly maintain speeds at more than 230mph and have, at times, ran five cars side-by-side on the straights with inches separating them from potential catastrophe."
The race is "a veritable symphony of chaos at 230mph", says Oliver BRown of the Daily Telegraph.
"For all that [Alonso's] F1 mastery should prove a telling point of difference from his rivals, he is also, history would suggest, a hostage to fortune.
However, if anyone has the tools to succeed it is Alonso, who "owes his reputation solely to the fact that his driving is a study in on-the-limit brilliance".
"This is one rare moment when a celebrated driver could, if every plot twist goes his way, cement his legend."
Fernando Alonso drops Monaco Grand Prix to race in Indy 500
Fernando Alonso will miss the Monaco F1 Grand Prix next month in order to race in the Indianapolis 500 in the US, McLaren have announced.
His decision to skip the most glamorous weekend of the Formula 1 calendar to join the Indycar circuit is sure to heighten speculation that he is unhappy with his team's performance.
The news comes after another disappointing weekend for the Spanish driver and his team at the Chinese Grand Prix. Alonso drove brilliantly to get up to eighth place but was forced to retire after 33 laps with a mechanical problem.
There was also a glaring illustration of the performance differential between the McLaren and Mercedes cars when he was overtaken at speed by Valtteri Bottas.
Alonso "has grown frustrated with the performance of McLaren and their beleaguered engine supplier Honda, and there had been some suggestion that he could quit midway through the year," says the Daily Telegraph.
"But, while Alonso will miss Monaco for the Indy 500 - a race considered one of the biggest on the motorsport calendar - the Spaniard insists it will be the only Grand Prix he will be absent for this season."
With no chance of making an impact in the F1 title race this season, it appears Alonso "has seized his opportunity to try and fulfil another goal", says Rebecca Clancy of The Times.
She adds that it is his ambition to emulate Graham Hill and become only the second driver to win the "triple crown" - the Indianapolis 500, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix, which he has won twice.
Letting the driver miss Monaco may be a gesture of goodwill by his team, says Andrew Benson of the BBC, adding: "McLaren have supported Alonso's wishes because they recognise the efforts he has been putting in - and the frustration he is feeling - after three uncompetitive seasons since joining the team in 2015."
It could also pave the way for an unexpected comeback to F1 for McLaren's reserve driver Jenson Button.
The prospect has been welcomed by many Formula 1 fans, but not everyone believes it will happen. "Button has taken a hands-off approach to his role and it is unlikely the former world champion will be tempted back by such an uncompetitive car," says the Times. "He is also now focusing on triathlons and trying to qualify for the world championships."