Fernando Alonso is back in Formula 1 with Renault for 2021.
A good choice for him, or a desperate attempt to get back onto the grid at any cost? Is he the best option for Renault, or should it have gone for youth?
Ultimately, is Renault signing Alonso a good idea?
Here are our writers’ thoughts.
Alonso should’ve stayed away
I’m not so sure it’s a good idea, but the one thing it will do is leave Renault with no hiding place.
We all know that Alonso is a very capable driver but when things aren’t going as he wants them to he can also be very destructive. Just look at what happened at McLaren first time around, McLaren second time around with Honda – even Ferrari wasn’t what I would have called a match made in heaven.
The other thing that I don’t like about it is that it closes the door for a young driver to make a debut. There needs to be openings for some of the up and coming young stars of tomorrow.
Alonso needs to remember he was only a 19-year-old when he made his debut with Minardi in 2001 – not to mention the fact stars of the next decade like Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and now Lando Norris have also had their chances young.
Alonso walked away at the end of 2018 and I believe he should have stayed away.
Renault’s right to overlook its juniors in this case
It’s difficult to not get excited about the return of Fernando Alonso. There will always be a sense of what could have been with the mercurial Spaniard, rated so much higher than his tally of only two titles would suggest. And the fact he’s given Le Mans, Dakar and Indianapolis a try only pushes him up on the fever-o-meter.
Renault was really left with little choice in terms of Alonso. The company has already been widely criticised for going for the older Alonso over one of its Academy drivers. That Academy was questioned and ridiculed based on the move.
But you can’t judge the entire academy on one driver move, even if the end goal of that academy is to produce F1 talent. If someone isn’t ready yet, that doesn’t mean they never will be or that it’s Renault’s fault for going for a sure thing in the short term.
The only person Renault could have promoted with a superlicence at this stage is Christian Lundgaard, but he’s done only three years of car racing. While he’s proven capable of epic speed, he’s also shown a bit of immaturity and inconsistency too, and there are enough question marks there that you really can’t knock Renault for taking one of the world’s best drivers instead.
It could have promoted Guanyu Zhou, but there’s no guarantee he will have enough superlicence points at the end of the year. Can you let Alonso slip waiting for Zhou, only for him to potentially not get a licence?
Renault has been good to its juniors – it’s one of the very few F1 teams to actually fund young drivers’ careers properly. Its work in the Formula Renault Eurocup is unparalleled too. Don’t be so quick to condemn its Academy.
Who says Lundgaard or Zhou don’t stay on and become F1-ready prospects for 2023? It’s a blow to them, but Renault had no choice. That’s clear even to this junior-loving journalist.
A gamble for both sides
I’m so torn on this. I don’t subscribe to the view that Renault should have signed an Academy driver because Alonso’s too old because there’s no one there who is at the required level.
But in terms of where Renault’s at, the likelihood of it succeeding in the next two or three years, and the question mark over what kind of Alonso will be coming back to F1…it’s a bit of a gamble from both sides.
Even if Alonso’s immediately mega again, he’s not going to turn the fifth-fastest car into a regular podium finisher, so is there any major difference there for the team?
And in terms of helping Renault move forward as a collective, will Alonso not grow frustrated and impatient if Renault continues with its current stagnation? If he’s struggling, how will he react to being second-best to Esteban Ocon?
The risks and rewards are both very high, even though I think the probability is weighted towards it backfiring.
But all credit to both parties for rolling the dice. If it works, F1’s a much better place than it would be with any other option.
Plugging in a superstar isn’t enough
It’s great for F1 that Alonso is coming back. Very few drivers could go so long without winning, then have two years not even racing in F1, and still create the buzz he does. But that doesn’t mean this is going to be a great success.
Renault has lost its way recently, and whatever it has planned for the future wasn’t enough to convince Daniel Ricciardo to stick around beyond his initial, very lucrative, two-year contract.
We saw from Alonso’s second McLaren stint that just plugging in a superstar who will drive the wheels off of whatever you give him isn’t enough in modern F1.
Renault is clinging to the hope that the new rules for 2022 will give it the clean sheet of paper it needs to get on terms with the big teams, but so is everyone else, and they can’t all instantly become title contenders.
It’ll be interesting to see what type of Alonso we get when he’s back on the grid.
His regular proclamations of ‘my greatest qualifying lap/race ever’ became a running joke during his final years at McLaren. Presumably it was his public-facing comping mechanism, a way to appear fired up and motivated, but also to make it very clear he was driving a piece of junk.
McLaren benefited from the reset of Alonso moving aside. Given the habit he’s developed of leaving a team just before its fortunes improve, perhaps Renault will get things right after he departs.
If Alonso could legitimately claim some credit for transforming the team that made him a world champion into a winner again, that’s not a bad legacy.
Alonso’s still more than good enough
Fernando Alonso gets what he needs – one last shot at F1 to chase that coveted third world championship – while Renault gets the superstar driver it requires. Whether it proves to be a good idea, it was the best available idea for both sides!
But for all the tangential concerns about Alonso shining a light on Renault’s struggles and potential for causing friction in the team, at the heart of this is the key question of whether Renault is getting a driver capable of doing the job. The answer to that is unquestionably ‘yes’.
He remains stunningly fast, he’s still got a few years left in him at the top level and is an all-time great capable of doing things behind the wheel of a car that few from any era have ever been able to match.
It’s a marriage of convenience, certainly, but one that has a good enough chance of paying off for both sides to be worth the risk. Even if it has the potential to turn very inconvenient for both sides.
A fight for survival together
I think it will work precisely because Alonso and Renault are two entities fighting for their F1 survival, on the balancing point of glory or failure. They are in it together.
But how would we define success? It isn’t feasible in the timeframe left of Alonso’s career that Renault is going to challenge Mercedes. But a couple of years into the cost-capped era, there may just be enough convergence that Alonso can shine.
If we’re defining success as winning the title, no. But that’s unrealistic – because there is no driver who could do that in the timeframe we’re talking.
But enough to star, to have days where they run with the opportunity to pull off something spectacular; yes absolutely.
A great idea… that probably won’t pay off
I’ve always said that once you become a journalist, the ‘fan’ part of you gets put away in a box and your ‘bias’ becomes towards whatever results would make the best storylines for your publication.
But I’ve got to confess that Alonso straddles both worlds for me. He’s been a never-ending source of great storylines and big traffic figures for most of my career. And my ‘inner fan’ was still doing quiet little mental fist-pumps over him ending Michael Schumacher’s reign, the Imola 2005 win, that wheel-banging round-the-outside pass on Felipe Massa for the ’07 Nurburgring win, the underdog Renault victories in ’08 (Fuji still counts!) and pretty much everything he did in 2012.
So yes, I’m delighted he’s back because he’s going to generate a lot of scope for articles on The Race. And I’m delighted he’s back because inner-fan-me isn’t done with seeing Alonso hustling an F1 car – and then saying mischievous things about it – yet.
But there’s absolutely no part of me whatsoever that expects Alonso to win a third F1 world title with Renault. He’s going to be ferociously motivated, he’s going to get everything out of that car that it can give. But he’s joining a team with a predilection for self-destruction that’s nowhere near where it wants to be in the pecking order.
It’s a delicious storyline and it makes the reshuffled 2021 F1 driver line-up even more tantalising. But it’s piling pressure on Renault, and also on Alonso to prove his career judgement isn’t flawed as his critics think.