Alonso foregoing Monaco Grand Prix to race in Indianapolis 500

Fernando Alonso waits in line during qualifying for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY SportsThe most prestigious race of the Formula One calendar will be without one of the series’ biggest names this weekend due to a scheduling conflict, and the conflicting interests of Fernando Alonso. The two-time F1 champion will miss Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix for the first time in his 16-season career in order to race at the Indianapolis 500, which is also on Sunday. Monaco and the Indy 500 represent two thirds of motorsport’s triple crown, and it appears Alonso has set his sights on accomplishing that elusive feat.

Alonso won Monaco twice during the most dominant stretch of his F1 career, taking the checkered flag in 2006 and 2007, but those glory days are long behind him. Alonso’s last victory came in 2013, and he has endured more than two years of frustration driving for the troubled McLaren Honda team. He hasn’t stood on the podium since joining the team in 2015, and 28 percent of his races in that span have ended in retirement, including two this season (along with one Did Not Start). Alonso stood little chance of achieving a meaningful result Sunday at Monaco, so his attention turned to the weekend’s other prestigious race, and he announced his decision last month.

It didn’t take long for Alonso to become familiar with the power and chassis of his IndyCar, in which he looked confident during qualifying. Alonso will start fifth on the grid, right in the thick of the lead pack, and he was one of only three drivers to keep his average speed above 231 mph on all four qualifying laps, joining pole-sitter Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, who drove for now-defunct F1 team Manor Racing last season. If Alonso can maintain that consistency over the 200 laps of the race, he stands a good chance of winning his IndyCar debut.

Jenson Button is coming out of retirement to take Alonso’s place at Monaco. Button is all too familiar with McLaren Honda’s struggles after he and Alonso were teammates for the previous two seasons. He isn’t likely expecting much from this one-off return to racing seeing as McLaren Honda is the only F1 team without a point in 2017 - a far cry from the team’s glory days in the 1980s and ‘90s, and their last driver’s championship in 2008.

If Alonso manages to win the Indy 500, his next focus outside of F1 will likely be the third jewel in the triple crown: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Graham Hill is the only driver ever to accomplish the feat, which he completed by winning Le Mans in 1972, and Alonso’s pursuit is breathing new life into the century-old Indy 500 and motorsport fandom in general, with live streams of his practice sessions drawing millions of views on YouTube. But regardless of what happens this weekend, Alonso will be back in his McLaren Honda for the Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks, toiling away with the worst team in F1 until his contract expires at the end of the season.