The recovering Fernando Alonso will be “at a top level” on his Formula 1 comeback this season, says his Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Two-time world champion Alonso is returning to F1 after two seasons out of grand prix racing.
In that time he contested the Dakar Rally and the Indianapolis 500, won a second Le Mans 24 Hours and became World Endurance champion.
However, his off-season work suffered a setback last month when he was hit by a car while cycling, and Alonso was absent from Wednesday’s Alpine launch as he continues to recover from surgery on his fractured jaw.
Alpine has suggested Alonso will be fit to drive in pre-season testing in Bahrain, which takes place on March 12-14, but while Ocon admitted it was a hindrance he believes Alonso will be ready.
Referring to Alonso setting the fastest time in last year’s post-season Abu Dhabi test, and comparing well to qualifying times set by Renault’s drivers ahead of the grand prix, Ocon said Alonso “doesn’t look like a 39-year-old, and he doesn’t drive like a 39 year old”.
“Trust me, he will be ready,” said Ocon. “And he will be performing at a top level.”
Alonso’s preparations for his return with Alpine, formerly Renault, included a lot of mileage in a 2018 Renault last year and an end-of-season test in the 2020 car.
He was also immersed in the team on grand prix weekends, initially remotely but then joining Renault at events.
“At the moment what I’ve seen is basically his level at the test [last December], which was I think quite impressive for a comeback,” said Ocon. “Definitely he will be at the level [he was before his sabbatical].
“Of course, what happened to him recently, I hope will be fine, I hope he will be able to test in Bahrain, that he will have good preparation, because obviously it’s not ideal to be at that stage at this moment.”
Ocon faces an important season alongside Alonso after a difficult first year with Renault in 2020.
He struggled to match up to Daniel Ricciardo after his own season on the sidelines in 2019 and only finished 12th in the championship, with little more than half of Ricciardo’s points.
Ocon felt he made significant progress in the second half of the year and scored an opportunistic podium in the chaotic Sakhir Grand Prix.
He believes continuing with the team is useful alongside a driver of Alonso’s calibre but pointed out Alonso’s extensive preparations, and history with an Enstone team he is joining for a third time, as factors reducing any potential advantage.
“I want to build on where I finished in 2020 and continue improving from that,” said Ocon.
“But Fernando has had so much testing and so much preparation that he will be ready, no problem.
“He’s done so many kilometres, he’s been to the factory, he’s been to the races. He won the title with Enstone as well in 2005 and 2006.
“Things have changed around but you still find the people you work with back in those days and yeah, he basically knows 80% of the people here at the factory.
“He will be set and he will be ready no problem.”