Fernando Alonso and McLaren failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. And the world lost its marbles.
The fans, commentators, media, people who are watching Indy for the first time because Fred’s involved. Everybody seemed to express disbelief and shock. How could a two-time F1 world champion, Le Mans winner and 24 of Daytona winner, who qualified 5th on his debut at the Brickyard, possibly miss the race when driving for a team that is a giant in motorsport?
Well, Jenna Fryer has published an article which details some stunningly hilarious errors. Now, whilst Jenna is, by most accounts I’ve seen, a fine reporter, this is the only source with this information that I can find. So, we won’t talk about those for now, because there are some much more basic reasons for Fred not qualifying.
Firstly, this team is brand new. It’s been put together over the last year and this was the first time they’d all worked together. Of course they’ll have teething trouble. It was the same for Clauson-Marshall Racing, who only just made it in with Pippa Mann at 30th (which is awesome).
Secondly, they chose the wrong team to partner with. Carlin may have great pedigree in general, but they only started in IndyCar last year. A better bet would have been Carpenter or even Dreyer & Reinbold. Anyone but Carlin, who entered three cars themselves, of which only one qualified.
Finally, they had issue after issue. An electrical problem in the open test that took an hour to diagnose. Another one on the first day of practice. Then a crash on the second day, which caused them to miss the third day. Then puncture on his first qualifying run. Finally, on Bump Day, they ran the ride height too low in the practice laps, losing more track time.
Put all those together and it’s not hard to see why they failed. Heck, the first reason is probably the most important one. Note that most teams that are Indy only, brand new or inexperienced teams qualified near the back – Clauson, Reinbold, Juncos, Dragonspeed etc.
So why is everyone surprised? Simple. It’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren. The team have won 182 F1 races along with 20 championships (12 drivers, 8 constructors) , they’ve won Indy, their F1 GTR won Le Mans in 1995. They are among the biggest teams in motorsport. The driver has won 32 F1 races, 2 championships, has won Le Mans and is leading WEC, Daytona 24, on debut at Indy qualified 5th, led 27 laps and won Rookie of the Year and is the driver Lewis Hamilton respects more than any other. Put it this way, if Lando Norris was driving instead, it would only generate barely half the headlines.
But people are forgetting that at Indy, both team and driver are inexperienced. Sure, the team won Indy before, but that was in the 1970s. The car they entered for Fred two years ago was an Andretti car painted orange, had a different engine and specification to this year’s car. So whilst they might be giants in global motorsport, in IndyCar they’re newbies, like Clauson and Dragonspeed, who only just made in let me remind you.
Fans, media, everyone who’s following Indy, I urge you to just use your brains, look at what’s happened with open eyes and realise, “Yeah, they were never going to win this year”. Because they weren’t. Even without the problems, the goal for McLaren this year was to learn and then have a proper go next year. With the problems they’ve had, it was clear they were going to struggle to make the race and yet social media practically blew up when Kyle Kaiser crossed the finish line.
Once you’ve had a lie down and digested all this basic information, I urge you to continue to watch Indy, because there are lots of stories. Chiefly, Simon Pagenaud was the first French driver in a century to take pole, Ed Carpenter’s team got all three of their cars into the Fast Nine and Colton Herta qualified 5th at his first attempt. These are all stories that developed after Fred got bumped, but no one cared.
I love Fred. I love his enthusiasm, his willingness to put his reputation on the line to challenge himself, his skill and his personality. But does it really matter that he didn’t make it? Not really. It’s not a good thing that they’re out of the race, but McLaren will probably come back and Fred certainly will. And if I’m honest, I’m kind of glad that he didn’t make it, because he’d only be trundling around gaining mileage if he had, and I’ve watched him do that in enough F1 races.
These other stories are all just as surprising and just as awesome. We’ve got a potentially great race on Sunday with Penske vs Carpenter, with some Andretti cars and Colton (so, Andretti cars) thrown in there too. Let’s have a great race on Sunday and focus on the things that, in the grand scheme of things, truly matter.