Johnson will pilot a Formula 1 car while Alonso will hop in Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet.
It’s the third such driver swap between NASCAR and F1 drivers after Jeff Gordon-Juan Pablo Montoya in 2003 at Indianapolis and Tony Stewart-Lewis Hamilton in 2011 at Watkins Glen.
On Saturday and Sunday, Johnson was visited Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as a guest of McLaren Racing and Alonso.
Johnson toured the F1 garage, watched pit stop practice, qualifying and participated in hot laps riding in a street car with Alonso.
“I’m a massive Formula 1 fan and have followed it my whole life,” Johnson said in media release. “I have the utmost respect for Fernando and this form of motorsport. There is such an energy around Fernando – his racing has been so celebrated over the years, he is such a legend. To see how this year has unfolded – we didn’t know of his retirement when decided to do this. So to be a part of this huge weekend for him is just unbelievable. McLaren has been amazing.”
Here’s a look at how Johnson has documented his preparation for the driver swap on social media this week.
For the second time in five years, a Formula One and NASCAR Cup race will fall on the same day in the same state.
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage remains just as stridently opposed to the head-to-head concept as he was in 2014.
“Shame on Formula One for doing this to the fans,” Gossage said in a statement Friday a few hours after Formula One announced a Nov. 3, 2019 race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin that will coincide with the second annual Cup race in Fort Worth. “Fans have recognized this as the NASCAR date on this weekend since its inception long before Circuit of the Americas was built.
“I would think a lot of fans – myself included – would enjoy going to both races. Now Formula 1 is making fans choose only one. Yet another bad call by Formula 1 showing their infamous indifference toward the fans.”
Liberty Media executives were on an earnings call with investor analysts Wednesday and were asked about their thoughts of NASCAR.
Chase Carey, chief executive of Formula 1 for Liberty Media said: “First and foremost I’m focused on, priority one for us here is really getting Formula 1 to where we think it can and should be over the next couple of years. We’re not trying to put blinders on, but I think we have an opportunity to really take this business to another level.
“NASCAR is a fairly different franchise for us. You look at the fan base, the regionalization of it in the U.S. is not really even a broad-based U.S. sport.
“We both race cars. I’m not sure beyond that there’s a lot that would really make it a natural fit for us. It would certainly give us scale in the U.S., and we could use that scale to build, but I think there probably are more differences than similarities. Our priority is really making Formula 1 everything it can be and focusing on things that would really strengthen Formula 1 in a different way. Liberty may have a different perspective. They acquire more businesses than we do. I’m only worrying about one business, which is Formula 1. I think there are limits to which degree that fits in a way that would really make one plus one is three. The guys in Denver (the company is based in nearby Englewood, Colorado) look at more businesses than we do. They may have a different view.’’
Said Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty: “But we are largely in agreement with Chase. I think it’s not as clear what the synergies are between the two assets, and I would note the trends have not been perfect in NASCAR. Unless we had a good thesis on how and why we could fix them, it’s not an obvious to us.”
As the Daytona 500, the most watched and anticipated race of the NASCAR season, drew to a close, the results sheet showed what many of us expected: The new, large group of brash, seething, success-starved young drivers didn’t disappoint and took center stage in NASCAR’s biggest show.
Meanwhile, that same week on the other side of the racing world …
The principal of Williams F1 Team, Claire Williams, was dealing with the brash media and defending the merits of her own set of very inexperienced and young drivers for the 2018 Formula One World Championship.
And both events represented the polar spectrums of the most feared word in racing (and a four-letter word in my book): Funding.
Last season, Williams, one of the most historic teams in Formula One, announced the signing of an unheralded 18-year-old named Lance Stroll. Many casual fans asked “Who?” and the PR machines drummed up all sorts of lovely attributes about the young Canadian. But as with most things in racing that make you utter “Huh?” you need only follow the money.
Lance Stroll’s dad is a billionaire and by many reports agreed to provide to the team (and I am not exaggerating) a staggering $40 million U.S. paperbacks to make his son the new rookie driver at Williams. (Some had reported $80 million, but this is thought to be an exaggeration).
Throughout the world, the uproar wasn’t deafening but more nuclear explosion. “Silver spoon” didn’t suffice in this case. It was more being “born-with-sole-ownership-rights-to-Facebook”-spoon.
And yet one year later, Williams F1 Team said, “au revoir” to popular veteran Felipe Massa, who left for his second attempt at retirement. That left the team with only Lance Stroll, who had a respectable but by no means blistering debut season.
Williams had a decision: Who do they put beside the most garish display of a pay driver in the history of the sport?
The team had tested veteran Polish driver Robert Kubica, who is thought to be one of the most talented in the sport. He had driven for the likes of the factory BMW team and won. He was Renault’s star driver until February 2011 when he was doing a rally race in the offseason and had a horrific crash that partially severed his right forearm.
But through the years he had worked tirelessly to prove he had rehabilitated enough to come back to F1. And in this off-season, it looked like this would be the case. One of the most remarkable comeback stories in the sport’s history was about to come to fruition. He had tested with Williams and maybe lacked a bit of speed, but by all accounts, he had the veteran savvy to help this once-great team try to assemble the building blocks to its former glory.
But come Feb. 15th when Williams launched its new car for the 2018 season, Claire Williams wasn’t answering how excited she was to have Robert Kubica. She was maligning the term “pay driver.”
Williams had chosen another rookie who had a lot of experience in lower formula’s and was respectable but also was known to have another massive amount of personal funding: Sergey Sirotkin
As Claire remarked “It’s nothing new in F1 that drivers come with money, and thank goodness that they do. It would be incredibly naive for anyone to make that statement, saying ‘He’s just a pay driver.’ It’s great if a driver has financial interests from partners. It’s great for the team. It’s great for the driver.
“This is an expensive sport, not just F1 but at the grassroots level as well. We’d miss out on so much talent coming into F1 if drivers didn’t have financial backing supporting them through the junior formulae, and bringing them into F1.”
She would continue defending Williams’ decision: “I think the terminology or the vocab used around pay drivers is wrong. It’s inappropriate, and it’s unnecessary, and it puts negativity around a driver that we just should not be doing in this sport anymore.
“There are commercial issues of course, but we make our driver decisions based on talent, based on what Paddy [Lowe]’s engineering team needs in order to take this team forward, not about any potential financial backing that they have.”
And the fact is, I have to agree with her.
As sponsorship is becoming increasingly harder to obtain, F1 budget numbers have won the space race to Mars (waving as they pass Elon Musk). Any sane person would have made the same decision. When the difference may be losing a couple tenths or being in financial hardship, she made the right decision.
But I am not convinced no matter how much PR drivel is shoveled my way that the two best drivers available in the world are driving for Williams F1 Team.
The pay driver argument will continue all season for Williams, as it has for decades in racing. And it may continue to get worse unless something is done to restrict the cost.
But in NASCAR, where sponsorship has become a very tough game, the top level somehow is being graced with a serious amount of young very talented racers being selected based on merit. And they showed this during the incredible race that was this year’s Daytona 500.