On Saturday, Alonso blew everyone away with a superhuman lap to get his McLaren Honda to 7th on the grid for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix. This turn up for the books was even more of a shocker given that the Honda transmission split in half, relieving the car of its oil on the spot just 24 hours beforehand.
Following this, the race wasn’t quite as exciting for Alonso. He was on the receiving end of a dodge from Massa at Turn Two, sending him straight out the top 10 and had to settle for a 12th place finish, owing to the retirements up front. At least he finished for the home fans though.
Not much time to dwell on what may have been, he was straight on a private plane with Zac Brown and Eric Boullier to the states to make a start on his Indy 500 prep.
There was a 2 hour practice session in the morning for returning veterans and rookies, just 14 hours after the chequered flag fell in Barcelona. At the end of those 2 hours, Alonso topped the time sheets in the number 29 McLaren Honda Andretti car, with a top speed of 221.63mph around the 2.5 mile oval circuit.
In the afternoon, the first full practice session got underway with all 33 drivers on track. He was able to improve, reaching 223.025mph and coming 19th overall, still leading the rookie runners. Teammate Marco Andretti lead the field with a top speed of 226.34mph.
His practice was cut short with half an hour to go with suspension issues, but Fernando is no stranger to reliability problems! At least it wasn’t the power unit!
He admitted that this did interfere with the run plan as he hadn’t had a chance to do much running in traffic, other than to draft some cars out the pit lane. Traffic will be a major issue during the race and one that he is keen to get experience of early on. Knowing that he is on the back foot, he had this to say:
“The most difficult thing will be the race itself – all the things that happen in a race like this one, which are the traffic, running in traffic and learning all the little tricks to overtake,” he continued “I don’t have that experience and I don’t have that time, so I know that I will be weaker in some of these aspects. I need to learn as quick as I can in the next 10 days, 12 days.”.
Unlike the rest of the field, Alonso and his team won’t be focussing on qualifying set up. Instead they are prioritising race pace and overtaking. Feeling like this was the right way to go, he said “Obviously, when you are out there, you want to be fast. But the priority for us in my garage is to set up the car for the race, to feel comfortable in traffic, to learn as much you can (about) the way to overtake, how to overtake and how to lose the minimum time possible with those manoeuvres.”
So, the next 2 weeks are going to be about gathering as much experience and learning as much as possible heading into the race. He has a way to go if he is to win and obtain the second part of the coveted Triple Crown!
But he has some of the most experienced names in the sport in his corner to keep him right. In fact, following on from his practice outing, Mario Andretti and Fernando Alonso got further acquainted over dinner. On account of this being a legend containing selfie, I can forgive the food in his teeth!
The two day qualifying sessions for the race will be held over the weekend ahead of another week of practice in the run up to the big day on the 28th. You can catch all the practice running over on the Indycar Youtube channel.