Love him or hate him, there’s no denying it: Fernando Alonso is a generational talent.
He’s the kind of racer that only comes around once every few decades. Alonso is passionate, polarizing, but most importantly, a perfectionist behind the wheel whose desire and drive to win sets him apart from even the best of the best drivers in the world.
Of course, he’s always been a controversial figure in Formula 1, from the games he played in practice and qualifying with other drivers as an up-and-comer with Renault to his association with both Spygate (with McLaren) and Crashgate (in his return to Renault), two of the biggest F1 scandals of this millennium. His semi-frequent team changes and the ruffled feathers he’s left behind at past teams are on par with any off-track drama that Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, and Ayrton Senna produced two-plus decades ago.
But drama be damned: Alonso gets results.
His 32 Grand Prix victories are good for sixth all time; his 23 fastest laps are tied for 10th. Despite a number of years running in sub-par or unreliable equipment, including his tumultuous second stint at McLaren, he’s been on the podium in roughly one of every three races he’s started. His two championships in 2005 and 2006 ended Michael Schumacher’s dominance of the sport, and made him the only Spanish World Champion in history.
In recent years, though, Alonso has begun to turn his attention elsewhere. Mired in a disastrous third F1 season with the unreliable McLaren-Honda, he set his sights on the Triple Crown of Motorsport: an F1 title, Indianapolis 500 victory, and 24 Hours of Le Mans win. Only Graham Hill has ever accomplished it.
Alonso started by reintroducing the McLaren brand to Indianapolis with Andretti Autosport, driving a car colored in Bruce McLaren’s classic papaya orange. Significantly, he skipped the Monaco Grand Prix in order to do it, handing over the reins to his F1 ride to Jenson Button. In Alonso’s first Verizon IndyCar Series race, he qualified an impressive fifth and led 27 laps before losing an engine with 21 laps to go. For his efforts, he was given a standing ovation from the fans and race Rookie of the Year honors.
Last October, he made the announcement that he would join United Autosports for the 24 Hours of Daytona, his first endurance race. As it turned out, that would just be a warm-up for the FIA World Endurance Championship, as Alonso would sign with Toyota GAZOO Racing to run one of the team’s LMP1s in the 2018-19 superseason.
After winning the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in May, his first win in any series since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, Alonso made his debut at Le Mans. In an intense intra-squad battle, Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima, and Sebastien Buemi would partner to win the race, exorcising Toyota’s demons from a power failure in the final minutes two years ago and giving Alonso his second Triple Crown victory.
That leaves only one event to win: Indianapolis.
The hottest rumor in the IndyCar paddock for the 2019 season is that McLaren will enter the series full-time, partnered either with Andretti once again or Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Alonso will take the seat. He’s expressed more than once his reverence for Indianapolis, and he’d be the highest-profile F1 driver to make the switch since Mansell abandoned the idea of a title defense in 1993 to join Newman/Haas Racing.
And if he makes that switch, going by what we saw last season, we just might see Alonso make history in 2019.