Monday is a big day for those of us who love motorsports of all kinds, as Jimmie Johnson and Fernando Alonso take part in one of the more unique events of the 2018 racing season as they trade their respective vehicles for a day. Here’s everything we know about what’s going on between the two in Bahrain:
So, what are Jimmie Johnson and Fernando Alonso up to?
Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, and Alonso, the two-time Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion, will be swapping rides in a private test on Monday. The two reportedly got the idea to do a ride swap after meeting in January, and have been teasing it heavily on social media in recent weeks.
Hasn’t this sort of thing happened before? What makes it any different from the last time?
Yes, of course, but you’re not opposed to a little bit of fun, are you? The first F1-NASCAR ride swap you might remember is when Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon traded places in June 2003, with Gordon driving the previous year’s Williams FW24 and Montoya sowing the early seeds of his eventual NASCAR switch in Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Eight years later at Watkins Glen International, Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart did the same thing, with Stewart climbing into the 2008-spec McLaren MP4-23 and Hamilton driving Stewart’s Car of Tomorrow.
There’s a big difference in driver background, though. Gordon and Stewart were both open-wheel racers earlier in their careers who were pegged among America’s best hopes for a top-tier F1 driver. Johnson’s background, meanwhile, was in off-road racing, starting with motorcycles and moving up to short course trucks.
Where will they be driving?
While one might expect a swap like this to occur at Yas Marina Circuit, since the Formula 1 season just wrapped up there on Sunday, Johnson and Alonso will actually be doing these demonstration runs at Bahrain International Circuit. Alonso won two of the first three F1 races held in Bahrain and three times there overall, with the victories coming in 2005, 2006, and 2010.
What will they be driving?
The stock car that Alonso will be sampling is a 2018-spec Cup car, one used by Johnson this season as he made his way into the playoffs for the 15th consecutive time. That car last raced at the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval in September, where Johnson placed eighth. Motorsport.com has reported that the car Johnson will drive is Mercedes-powered, which would make it no newer than a 2014 model. Regardless of the car, though, Johnson has spent time in McLaren’s simulator at its home base in the United Kingdom in preparation for the seat swap.
Could this signal an expanded American racing involvement for McLaren?
Maybe, but we already knew this, for the most part. What we know right now about McLaren’s plans stateside in 2019 is that they include an Indianapolis 500 entry for Alonso, one which will be far more in-house than the 2017 effort that they sponsored for him at Andretti Autosport. Alonso qualified fifth and led 27 laps before suffering an engine failure, and will be looking to improve upon that next season; McLaren’s initiative to bring much of the program in-house suggests a highly devoted effort, and perhaps more races in the future, with even a full-time entry for 2020 maybe in the cards.
Could this mean Fernando Alonso might give NASCAR a try?
Right now, we have no idea. Aside from finishing up his World Endurance Championship commitments with Toyota and Indianapolis with McLaren, Alonso’s 2019 is still fairly open. NASCAR Twitter buzzed when he followed a number of accounts earlier this year., and he’s already run at Daytona before in this year’s Rolex 24, so some have suggested a Daytona 500 appearance could be imminent. It doesn’t seem likely that Hendrick Motorsports would have a spot for him, with all four of its teams set on drivers, and McLaren CEO Zak Brown says the team doesn’t plan on starting a NASCAR operation.
How can I watch this live?
Unfortunately, if you’re not in Bahrain at the track (which will be open to the public), you can’t. Stay tuned to the drivers’ and teams’ respective social media accounts for behind-the-scenes coverage.