Renault says the effects of the global coronavirus crisis in 2020 worked against young drivers in its academy being considered for the Formula 1 seat Fernando Alonso has taken for 2021.
Alonso’s return to Renault for a third time was announced on Wednesday, and the two-time world champion will be 39 when he rejoins the F1 grid after two years away.
Addressing criticism Renault has faced for not giving one of its youth prospects a chance, team boss Cyril Abiteboul said he expected that reaction.
“It’s an important question because I can already expect that our decision to rejoin with Fernando could be seen as a lack of interest or loyalty to our own project of the Renault Sport Academy,” Abiteboul told media in a press call with Alonso.
“And it’s not, I want to be extremely clear that it is not. The plan of the Academy was to be able to have a driver joining Formula 1 in 2021. And who knows, it may be the case.
“But let’s face it, this year this crisis has had many severe impacts, one of which is to delay the season start and therefore the delay of ability to judge the performance of the two elders from our Academy, Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard.”
Lundgaard is a rookie in Formula 2 this year, while Zhou is in his second year in the series, and he was a contender for victory from pole position in the season-opener at the Red Bull Ring.
“Both of them have done an extremely good weekend, Zhou in particular could have won the race and Christian was P4 in his first race without any winter testing,” Abiteboul added.
“So we are very very serious about the Academy, very serious about those two people in particular, and the plan will remain to see how they can join Formula 1.
“I’m sure that Fernando, like Esteban [Ocon], has lots to bring also to their development.”
Alonso said helping with the development of Renault’s young talent was part of his “mission” to bring as much as possible to Renault out of the car as well as on track.
“I’m aware of the Renault Sport Academy and the importance of it to the group, and I cannot agree more with Cyril’s words,” he said.
“The young, talented guys are the future. So I will try to help as much as I can with my experience, in different categories as well and different driving styles.
“I am aware of my mission, not only in the car, but also outside the car, what I have to help and bring to Renault.
“I will try to do my best on track, and I will try to help the team to be a world champion team.
“If it’s with me driving, that would be fantastic.
“If that will be with a future and younger driver, I would feel proud anyway”