Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s failure to qualify for the 103rd running of the Indy500 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came as a shock to many in the world of motorsports. Alexander Rossi, one of the few drivers who has successfully transitioned from European single-seater racing to America’s IndyCar Series, opened up about the “unique” nature of driving around an oval track and why money cannot buy success.

Alonso, who has won two F1 world championships, was going for his second attempt at the Brickyard after having qualified fifth and leading the race for 27 laps before retiring from the race in 2017. But it was not to be, as the Chevrolet-powered McLaren car first failed to make the top 30 and then was bumped out of the last row shootout by minnows Juncos Racing.

Five-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton had questioned the quality of the IndyCar Series after Alonso excelled in his first attempt, but the complexities of driving around an oval was answered by McLaren’s spectacular failure in 2019. Rossi admitted that F1 drivers were capable of underestimating IndyCar as it looked easy on television, with the racers simply having to drive around an oval race track, but he said it was anything but simple.

“I didn’t understand what oval racing was. I didn’t understand what IndyCar racing was, because there is no exposure to it in Europe,” Rossi, who has seven F1 starts to his name, said, as reported by the Associated Press.

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren F1 looks on from the pitwall during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 9, 2018. Charles Coates/Getty Images

“So when guys haven’t been a part of it,” the American said, “they don’t understand how difficult it is, how unique it is to everything they’ve done. On TV, let’s be honest, it doesn’t look that challenging, so being a European driver, in your mind you’re at the pinnacle of the sport. You think, ‘Of course I can go over there and do that and it wouldn’t be a problem’.”

Rossi, who won the Indy500 on his debut in 2016, finished the 2017 Indy500 in second place and last season, he came home fourth. He said money can’t buy the experience a driver or a team gets by competing regularly in the championship.

Unlike F1, where teams like Mercedes and Ferrari can increase their budgets to find that extra tenth compared to their rivals, Indycar teams work with a relative stock setup which puts added importance on the crew and the driver and how well the car is tuned. This allows small teams like Juncos Racing to upstage motor racing behemoths like McLaren.

“Fernando is a world champion. You expect him to do a good job,” Rossi added. “But at Indianapolis, to find speed, it’s experience, kind of the tricks of the trade that money can’t buy, and I think that gets lost on a lot of people, and I think that was on full display this past week.”