Inside Line: Monaco Grand Prix vs the Indy 500

So two of the biggest and possibly greatest motorsport events in the world have now come and gone, both on the same day, all be it some six hours apart, both attracting worldwide media attention.

In Monaco Sebastian Vettel led team mate Kimi Raikkonen home to claim Ferrari’s first Formula One win at Monaco for 16 years. Whilst in Indianapolis, Takuma Sato scored his first victory and the second successive 500 win for his team Andretti Motorsport in an Italian designed Dallara IndyCar.

Whilst both events are similar in terms of the uniqueness of their respective heritages, they also are very different. Starting in 1911, this was the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, whilst this was the 75th running of the Monaco Grand Prix. which started in 1929.

Both races personify their heritage. Monaco the jet set, glamourous European Principality and Indianapolis in the American Midwest, the self proclaimed Racing Capital of the World which holds the world’s largest single-day sporting event.

With a total capacity of 400,000, it could potentially accommodate the usual population of Monaco ten times! Of course when the Grand Prix comes to town, Monaco is a very different animal, overloaded and full of expensive yachts and beautiful people and wannabe beautiful people.

Monaco, as a street race is the slowest circuit in F1 with a fastest lap of 100mph/160km/h whilst Indianapolis on the Speedway has a fastest speed of 226mph/363km/h.

For a number of years both races have been held on the same weekend.

Monaco was traditionally held around Ascension Day, which is celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter and the reason why Monaco is the only Grand Prix to have practice on Thursday and not Friday. However, as the Easter date changes each year, for consistency of F1 scheduling the date now is based on the last weekend in May.

The Indianapolis 500 is run around the Memorial Day weekend in remembrance of the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Memorial Day is actually the last Monday in May and until 1974, the Indy 500 was actually run on the Monday, which meant the race was not always restricted to a weekend clashing with a Grand Prix.

Whilst now the F1 World Championship spans some 20 Grands Prix, in the sixties there were in the region of 8 races a year, so drivers were more open to compete in other events. Those who chose to drive at Indy often used to commute between the two events as they fitted Indy practice and qualifying around the demands of a Grand Prix.

Will the calendars ever be realigned not to conflict with each other? This maybe unlikely due to the traditions of both events, but maybe there could be an outside chance for F1 under the new management of Liberty?

So until that happens, Fernando Alonso may be the only current driver to enter the 500. However back in 1965 Jim Clark and Lotus chose to miss Monaco and Clark not only won the 500 but also went onto win his second F1 championship.

Clearly F1 championship success is a long way from Fernando’s dreams at the moment with McLaren now being the only team not to have scored any championship points. However, the current sad state of McLaren Honda in F1 created the very opportunity for Alonso’s debut in the Indy 500.

In my view, Fernando Alonso is without doubt the most complete F1 driver, who always gives 100% if not more! With his pure talent he should now be a multiple world champion, not a double, but this has not happened for various reasons of equipment and maybe also his career choices.

Speaking as a purist Alonso at Indy has been super impressive watching his development, from those first few laps as a ‘rookie’ to a potential race winner. In many ways he reminds me of Ayrton Senna. The good bits that is! The pure racer, the dedication, work ethic and indeed the humour and humility, which weren’t always visible to the public eye, but were very apparent to those who worked or were close to him.

Alonso, with the added demands of racing at Indianapolis, plus the ever present media and fan friendly nature of American racing, has matured and grown as a person, far beyond being a double F1 World Champion.

After being used to reasonably short F1 media events, the prospect of spending over an hour in one place talking to the press must have been a challenge, plus the ever present demands from the fans, from whom he is largely protected from in the sanitised world of F1. At the post race press conference, the symbolism of drinking from a small carton of milk was a master stroke and loved by the assembled media.

And if you haven’t already seen it, do watch his very impressive speech at the Indy 500 prize giving:

For his efforts Fernando Alonso reputedly earned $305,805, including $50,000 for being named Sunoco Rookie of the Year for the race. Not bad earnings, until you contrast that with the winner
Takuma Sato took home a cool $2,450,000! The openness of American financial earnings is such a contrast to the ultra-closed world of Formula One!

Fernando was the top-qualifying rookie in fifth, and led 27 laps, more than any other rookie, before ending up 24th after his Honda engine let go on lap 180 whilst running in seventh position. As a 35 year old double World Champion did he deserve to be rookie of the year?

This is decided by a media vote, based on four criteria, namely the driver’s skill, sportsmanship, accessibility and conduct during the month, finishing position. So probably yes for all the factors except probably the last one. However, it must be remembered that the result is through a democratic vote by the media, and we all know what can happen through the democratic vote process in America!

However, it is sad that Alonso’s award should overshadow another well deserving and impressive performance from another talented and much younger rookie. British driver, but Dubai born, 22 year old Ed Jones finished 3rd overall, having started in 11th position. His team boss Dave Coyne certainly thinks he should have won the rookie prize:

“Ed Jones has been nothing but impressive all season, but last Sunday was his finest hour. Debris from the Scott Dixon crash sent him into the pit to repair a rear wing and he came out in 33rd place. He set the fifth-fastest lap of the race, he was five spots ahead of Alonso when he went out and he ran the last how many laps with a hole in the nose cap, which just crippled him for straightaway speed or he might have won the thing!”

Ed Jones is certainly is a future talent to be watched and despite not winning the rookie award, for his third place he can be comforted by going home with $535,629.

With 33 starters from a field of 11 different nationalities, the 2017 Indy 500 had 15 different race leaders, a record for the event. Contrast that with Monaco, who had a field of 20 starters from a field of 12 nationalities, with just two different leaders.

So after his Indy adventure, what can Fernando Alonso take back to F1, apart from his renewed motivation and enthusiasm. From the media reports it looks like his enjoyment from driving in its purest form and the lack of complicated technology in IndyCar seems to make it more enjoyable than Formula One.

Fernando explained: “The team asks you if you are ready, you say yes. You switch on the car, and you go. They put fuel, tyres, and you go.”

“In F1, it takes maybe six minutes to fire up the car, because they need to check, recheck. There is so much technology there, electronics, the hybrid system that needs to be linked with the combustion engine, the brake by wire, and many things that slow down every run or every feel that you may have on the car. Here it’s more fun because you just switch on the engine and you race.”

“It is just more raw. Everything is more racing. It’s definitely faster and different. At the end of the day, we all started in go karts. We all started in the small categories that probably we miss that kind of feeling when you get to Formula One and you have everything under control, every single millimetre or every single tenth of a second. Here it’s more driver input.”

And maybe that is the key. Formula One should give more back to the driver. Let the driver have more influence over the car’s performance, so it is more about being the best driver, not who has the best car.

F1 should still be the pinnacle of the sport, but the technology has gone to far. It is to complicated. In many ways it has got to much caught up with “technology porn”, which whilst exciting for the boffins, doesn’t do anything for the fans. What they want to see is good racing with the best drivers.

As Martin Brundle commented about the current F1 cars in his post Monaco debrief: “We cannot wait until 2021 to sort out these overweight, overcomplicated, overly expensive, whispering cars. I’ve said it before. And I’ll keep saying it.”

I think most of us can agree to that!

Inside Line Opinion by Peter Burns