By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Fernando Alonso faces the busiest year of any Formula One driver but the Spaniard has played down fears he could be spreading himself too thin by competing in two world championships at once.
The 36-year-old gets one campaign started next week when he lines up for McLaren at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, the first of a record-equaling 21 F1 races around the world this season.
The double F1 world champion, who competed in the Indianapolis 500 last year, will also race for Toyota at the Le Mans 24 Hours in June and in the full World Endurance championship.
Alonso’s road to Le Mans, as well as McLaren’s new start in Formula One with Renault engines after three dismal years with Toyota’s Japanese rivals Honda, will be among the top storylines of the motorsport year.
“The only concern is traveling,” he told reporters during winter testing in Barcelona when asked about his ambitious program. “Traveling is going to be energy-consuming and I need to be very efficient on that.
“Every delay on the flight or every connection that you miss is going to hurt this year. So hopefully everything runs smoothly.”
The target is to become only the second driver to achieve the so-called ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport, a feat completed by the late Briton Graham Hill in 1972.
It involves winning the Indy 500, Le Mans and Formula One championship, although it can also be the Monaco Grand Prix which Alonso has won twice.
The Spaniard, who led at Indianapolis before his car broke down, competed in the Daytona 24 Hours in January to acclimatize himself and is up for the challenge.
“There are many things that I am now in the point of my career that I can deal with. Probably a couple of years ago maybe I didn’t have the knowledge of all of the areas,” he said.
“So I thought now was the time to do it and I feel ready. I think in terms of mental approach it’s going to be not an issue because every time you jump in the car you want to be competitive.
“Physically, while driving it’s going to be OK.”
McLaren executive director Zak Brown said Alonso was the kind of person who would be racing something during his down time anyway.
He also pointed out that while the WEC ‘Super Season’ ran to eight events, only five were this year with the rest in 2019 and ending at a second Le Mans. And one of the five was during the August break.
“What a lot people don’t know is he’s karting every weekend,” added the American.
“If he wasn’t going to be in a prototype, he would have been in a kart or something else. I’ve never seen someone who wants to literally live in a race car like he does… I just think if he’s at a grocery store it would be ‘let’s race the karts’.”
Alonso will not be doing anything more than drive for Toyota and WEC organizers have bent over backwards to fit in, to the extent of moving the Fuji Six Hours to avoid a clash with the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin.
If there are any conflicts, McLaren come first.
“He’s a McLaren driver on loan for those weekends,” said Brown, who was a key figure in Alonso’s headline-grabbing Indianapolis bid.
“His responsibilities there are pretty much driving, so he’s not going to have the same level of promotional work, sponsor commitments that would normally come along with that (involvement).
“And he’s well studied and focused on what preparation takes. If he thinks he can do it, we have no reason to believe that he can’t.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)