Alonso leads the race to repair F1's American reputation

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The Independent Online

In some people's minds, particularly those who came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year expecting to see a 20-car grand prix and instead had to make do with a six-car Ferrari flypast, two questions are linked as infamously as Nixon and Watergate. The first is how many cars will race this time ­ subtext, will Michelin screw it up again? The second, is Formula One finished in America?

Fernando Alonso's last concern is that Michelin are going to let him down again, though it is a curious fact that the Spaniard has never finished this race. But with four consecutive victories, you'd be unwise to bet against a fifth. "Every race we're in contact with Michelin," he said.

"The Monday or Tuesday we know the tyres we're taking for the race, the compounds, the constructions and any new developments in the tyre. And Indianapolis is the normal thing; we know what we're bringing here, we have 100 per cent confidence. I think we know the problem last year, they know the problem, it's completely forgotten."

Not necessarily by the fans, though Michelin have paid out around $12m (£6.5m) to the offended parties and bought 20,000 tickets for them for this year's race.

Among the teams and drivers, however, the situation is black and white: they all want to be here. Alonso believes that Formula One should stay. " Yeah, yeah, I think so. Looking at the fans though, and the people that were affected last year, they were obviously not very happy, but what we felt in the previous seasons is that they are fascinated by Formula One. It's true that Formula One is not very popular in USA, but the people who go to the track are really good fans."

Anthony Davidson starred yesterday with the fastest times in morning and afternoon practice, but it was the usual slow start to a grand prix weekend. But with Michael Schumacher all revved up to break Alonso's run of success, better things are in prospect for the remainder of the weekend. Assuming, of course, things don't get tyred and emotional.

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