Alexander Rossi is one whose opinion holds merit when talking about drivers from Formula One trying their hand in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
He speaks from experience.
He’s the California kid who bet on himself, crossed the Atlantic in search of a Formula One dream and came back home from nearly a decade of open-wheel racing in Europe to win the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil last year – as an unheralded rookie for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.
Now 25, Rossi is competing in his sophomore Verizon IndyCar Series season and a devout believer in the level of competition and difficulty that it takes to succeed in the top level of North American open-wheel racing.
Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso (shown above) tried his hand at this May’s 101st Indianapolis 500 in a partnership with McLaren-Honda and Rossi’s team, Andretti Autosport, that captured the attention of the motorsports world. The Spaniard qualified fifth, led 29 laps and was poised to be a factor for victory before engine failure extinguished his chance just 21 laps from the end of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Alonso admitted to thoroughly enjoying his Indy 500 experience – a complete contradiction to the season he has experienced in Formula 1, where his car has made it to the finish in just three of 11 races. It’s led to rampant speculation that Alonso, 36, is considering a fulltime move to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.
Rossi, who competed in five F1 races in 2015 and spent four seasons as a team reserve driver, believes Alonso would be challenged by the Verizon IndyCar Series circuits and the level of talent in the field should he try his hand at a full-season campaign. Rossi also believes his May teammate could succeed.
“I think there’s something to say for the fact that the quality of tracks in Europe are better than here, but that doesn’t mean they are better racetracks to drive,” said Rossi (left), the 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year for both the Indianapolis 500 and the entire season.
“You go to a place like Abu Dhabi – which in my mind is one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world – and it’s boring to drive. I have thousands of laps around there (in F1 testing) and it’s not exciting. Whereas you go to say, Mid-Ohio (in the Verizon IndyCar Series) – which visually isn’t that impressive, it’s worn down in areas, it could use some work – but you have a smile on your face every single lap that you do around there.
“So it’s the tradeoff. Are you looking for enjoying a visceral and raw form of motorsports? Or do you want the whole glamor of what Formula 1 is? There are upsides to both, right?
“I think that Fernando wouldn’t have any struggles adapting. We saw that at Indianapolis, but I think what he would be continually surprised by, as I was, was just how good the guys in this championship are and how one tiny mistake – whether it’s from driving or setup direction – could cost you a tenth (of a second) and could literally be the difference between (running) fifth or 12th. We see that every single session, every single weekend and I think that’s pretty crazy.”
Rossi, who has top-six finishes in his past four races and has climbed to seventh in the standings after being as low as 17th early this season, believes Alonso would be a welcomed addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series. From fellow competitors to fans to media alike.
“I think it would be massive for the championship,” Rossi said. “We saw the response that we got from him coming to the 500 and obviously there’s more of a global reach that race has versus (other races on the schedule).
“With that being said, I think there’d be a lot of follow-over. He’s a pretty big name in the world of motorsports. I think it would definitely grow the sport, especially in Europe. It might even open the opportunity with a fan base there to have races there in the future.
“I think that, with Fernando, there’s not going to be any negative that comes from it and I think that he as a driver will just enjoy the chance that every single day he shows up at a racetrack, he has a shot at it. He doesn’t have that right now and hasn’t for a couple of years, and that wears on you.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action this week at a road course favored by drivers around the world, Watkins Glen International. Practice for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen begins Friday, with Verizon P1 Award qualifying Saturday and the 60-lap race on Sunday. Live race coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.