Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has launched a fierce defence of his Formula 1 team’s request to run two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in a test ostensibly reserved for rookies.
Alonso has been given permission to take part in the Abu Dhabi one-day ‘young driver’ test so he can conduct a full day of driving in Renault’s 2020 car ahead of his return to F1 with the team next season.
Renault successfully lobbied for Alonso to be allowed to run at the test, designed for drivers with a maximum of two grand prix starts in their career, on the grounds both the manufacturer and Alonso already do a lot for young drivers.
The logic of the FIA’s decision has been challenged by rival teams, especially those that also have new drivers in 2021 – Ferrari (Carlos Sainz Jr), McLaren (Daniel Ricciardo) and Racing Point (Sebastian Vettel).
However, Abiteboul says that Renault felt it had a specific case to argue.
He said it cannot be accused of “not doing lots for young drivers” and that no other manufacturer “has invested half of what we have”, so asking to use one of its cars for Alonso was not an unreasonable request.
With the FIA siding with Renault, Abiteboul said aggrieved rivals “simply need to deal with it”.
“If Otmar wants to build a claim against the FIA, that would be quite rich, keeping in mind that we all know that they have an illegal car” :: Cyril Abiteboul
He also said he would find it “quite ironic” if Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer wanted to challenge the FIA over the decision following the controversy earlier this year surrounding Racing Point’s 2020 car.
Racing Point has been allowed to continue using its RP20 this season despite its rear brake ducts being found to be illegally designed.
“There is an indication of young drivers plus anyone that the FIA will give permission to,” said Abiteboul of the post-season test criteria. “That’s in the absolute right of the FIA to do that.
“If Otmar wants to build a claim against the FIA, that would be quite rich, keeping in mind that we all know that they have an illegal car.
“We have accepted to settle that one. But if he wants to have a go now at the FIA, I would find it quite ironic.”
So far Alonso’s preparations have been reduced to a 100km filming day in the 2020 car and several days testing Renault’s 2018 car.
A day of familiarisation has immense value for a driver getting used to a new team, particularly as pre-season testing next year will only take place over three days.
That is why Ferrari now wants to use this wiggle room presented by the FIA to get McLaren convert Sainz in its car in Abu Dhabi.
McLaren and Racing Point are unlikely to be able to make that happen with Ricciardo and Vettel respectively because it is too late to change their logistics and they decided not to take part in the test based on the original driver criteria that was agreed.
Justifying the need to put Alonso in the car, Abiteboul said: “What’s necessary is to give the team the absolute best possible platform to build upon for next year.
“No one is here for anything other than absolute performance and when teams are not here for performance, they are doing things for commercial purpose, and when they are doing that for commercial purposes, there is all sorts of critiques in relation to that.
“It is what it is and people simply need to deal with it” :: Cyril Abiteboul
“Clearly, we are not doing that with Fernando for commercial purpose, we are doing that for the sport, for our own competitiveness. And that is the case of every single entity.
“So, we’ve been very straightforward, we’ve been clear with the FIA, clear with F1 about what we are doing.
“I don’t think that we can be blamed for not doing lots for young drivers.
“I don’t think that any manufacturer has invested half of what we have invested for young drivers, with our young drivers academy, drivers that we are supporting financially, and with different activities, with Formula Renault Eurocup, a championship in which we have invested for 50 years.
“More than 50% of the drivers in Formula 1 today are coming from the ranks of Formula Renault Eurocup.
“But yes, this time round, because we are thinking of next season, because we need to move on from what’s been a great relationship with Daniel and we want to project ourself into a new relationship with Fernando, we ask for that permission which the FIA has the absolute right to grant and they granted it.
“So, it is what it is and people simply need to deal with it.”
One accusation has been that it is unfair for Renault to be able to test with a driver of Alonso’s experience and get extra development insight over the winter.
Red Bull and Alfa Romeo also appear to have been given permission to test experienced drivers, with former racers Sebastian Buemi and Robert Kubica (pictured above) expected to drive for those two teams.
However, Abiteboul said that the limits on what specification of car teams can run prove that this is purely about the driver, rather than car development.
“Fernando’s getting back into shape and stretching his legs,” said Abiteboul.
“He’s been amazing in the driving of the two-year-old car, we’ve done four days of that.
“He will have one more day, that’s particularly important in the context of next year, [when] we will have only three days to share across the two drivers of winter test.
“I know it’s the same for everyone. But again, that’s also one reason why we’ve asked for that.
“The FIA has taken the time to weigh up our request and has given the permission.
“But that’s very much around Fernando rather than the development of the car.”