Spain’s motor racing superstar, Fernando Alonso, is set to make a comeback to Formula 1 in 2021. Alonso will drive for Renault alongside Esteban Ocon, replacing the departing Daniel Ricciardo who is on his way to McLaren.
This will be Alonso’s third stint at Renault. After starting his F1 career with Minardi in 2001, Alonso became Renault’s test driver in 2002 and was promoted to a race seat in 2003. He repaid Renault’s faith in him with consecutive championship wins in 2005 and 2006, dethroning Ferrari’s megastar Michael Schumacher.
After a competitive but turbulent year at McLaren in 2007, Alonso returned to Renault for 2008 and 2009. Five years followed at Ferrari that included race wins but no championships, and Alonso then spent a disappointing four seasons at McLaren before stepping away from Formula 1 at the end of 2018.
Alonso’s return can only be good for Formula 1. He’s a global superstar and a double F1 world champion. He will draw massive crowds all over the world and particularly in Spain.
For Renault, Alonso will be the focal point for their championship hopes in 2022. F1 is due to introduce radical new regulations from the 2022 season, which provides an opportunity for the pecking order to be shaken up. Renault are currently in the midfield, some distance away from the front, but that could all change with the new regulations in 2022.
For Alonso personally, whether or not his return is worthwhile will depend largely on the performance of the Renault car. He spent several seasons frustrated in the midfield in uncompetitive McLarens before calling it a day at the end of 2018. It seems unlikely that Alonso will be happy with a return to mediocre results. He will want to win.
While Alonso’s comeback will be positive for Formula 1, Renault and possibly Alonso himself, it is likely to be a bit disappointing for the up-and coming drivers of the Renault Sport Academy, and in particular Guanyu Zhou, who is currently racing in Formula 2. Zhou took pole for the Formula 2 season opener in Austria last weekend and is currently the Renault F1 test driver. He will have been hoping that a strong 2020 in F2 could result in promotion to the Formula 1 team for 2021. That hope has evaporated with the confirmation that Alonso will join Ocon in the Renault F1 2020 driver line-up.
I wonder what is motivating Alonso’s return to F1. He’s already been world champion twice. He’s universally acknowledged as a fantastic Formula 1 driver and arguably one of the greatest all-round drivers in the world at present. But what does he he hope to gain from another go at Formula 1, particularly with a team that has not been at the front for some time? What is Alonso’s unfinished business in F1?
Alonso will be 39 when he returns to the grid next year. That will make him the oldest driver on the grid if Kimi Raikkonen doesn’t renew his contract with Alfa Romeo (Raikkonen turns 41 during 2020). He doesn’t need to build a career or a reputation. Those are already well established.
Alonso must surely be hoping to rewrite the end to his Formula 1 career. He left F1 at the end of 2018 after 4 winless years at McLaren, clearly tired of being an also-ran in the sport he dominated back in 2005 and 2006. I expect he would much prefer sign off from F1 with race wins at least and preferably a championship too.
Most drivers would be over the Moon to have two Formula 1 World Championships to their name. But for a driver of Alonso’s quality, it almost doesn’t seem like enough. He finished 2nd three times at Ferrari, and in two of those seasons the title went down to the final race. In 2007 Alonso was third in the championship but only 1 point behind champion Kimi Raikkonen – Alonso and his McLaren team-mate Hamilton had equal points and won 4 races each, but Hamilton had 5 2nd places to Alonso’s 4 and so Hamilton was classified 2nd in the championship).
Alonso could easily have been a five-time champion and nobody would have doubted the merit of the achievement. He must feel like there is some unfinished business there. One more title would put him in the same company as Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Jack Brabham and Nelson Piquet – all three-time champions and all greats of F1.
In all of Formula 1 history, there has only been one true comeback champion (Prost won in 1993 after a year out but hadn’t actually retired). Niki Lauda retired in 1979 with two titles for Ferrari under his belt. A return with McLaren in 1982 led to the title in 1984 and sealed Lauda’s place as an F1 legend. On the other end of the comeback spectrum, Michael Schumacher came out of retirement in 2010 and spent three tough seasons with Mercedes that yielded a single podium, no wins and not even a sniff at the title. If Alonso can crown his comeback with a third title, it will firmly add him to the list of Formula 1 legends. But Schumacher’s comeback showed the extent of the challenge that awaits.
Whatever his motivation, having Alonso back in F1 will be spectacular. He is always on the limit of the car and always giving 100% in pursuit of victory. And isn’t that exactly how racing drivers should be? All on the line, all of the time. Bring on 2021.
Hamilton’s incredible run of pole positions continued as the reigning World Champion topped qualifying for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton now has nine pole positions out of ten races in 2015, and five poles in a row. Nico Rosberg completed the front row of the grid for Mercedes, the fifth race in a row that has happened.
Who can beat Hamilton to pole? So far only Nico Rosberg has done so this year, and on only one occasion. The rest of the season, Hamilton has seemed untouchable. In qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton lapped over half a second faster than team-mate Rosberg, which is a massive margin in equal equipment. Rosberg didn’t seem to be able to put together a clean lap, perhaps a sign of how hard he is having to push to catch Hamilton.
Hamilton’s five poles in a row equals the most consecutive pole positions by a driver currently racing in Formula 1. Fernando Alonso achieved the feat in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel has done it twice – in 2010-11 and again later in 2011. Hamilton still has a way to go to beat Ayrton Senna’s astonishing record of eight successive pole positions, set in 1988-89, but it is certainly possible that Hamilton might dethrone Senna a bit later in 2015.
In a sport as competitive as Formula 1, any small advantage can be the difference between winning and coming second. Pole position provides at least two such advantages – pole position is generally on the “cleaner”, more grippy side of the track, which makes for a better start to the race than second place; the pole-sitter also controls the pace of the warm-up lap, which allows him to maximise the preparation of his own car for the start of the race. Pole position is definitely the place to be at the start of a Grand Prix.
Tomorrow, Hamilton will start from pole position for the ninth time this season. For the ninth race in 2015, he will have the advantages that make his race start a little bit easier and therefore potentially faster. And the Hungaroring, where the race is taking place, is a track at which overtaking is notoriously difficult. It’s not quite as simple as Hamilton needing to just make a clean start to win the race, but it’s not far off that. If Rosberg can pass Hamilton on track, it will be an impressive move indeed.
Once again, Hamilton has set himself up to have the best chance of victory in a Grand Prix. That’s just one of the many reasons he’s currently the man to beat in Formula 1.
Fernando Alonso is one of the top drivers in Formula 1 at present, perhaps ever. And yet he has not won the Drivers’ Championship since 2006. Why not? I think it’s largely the result of repeatedly being in the wrong team at the wrong time.
Consider Alonso’s career moves since starting in Formula 1. His career began in 2001 with Minardi, where he impressed enough in his first season to land a drive with Renault in 2003. Just a few years later, Alonso won back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006. So far, so good.
For 2007, Alonso switched to McLaren. The car was competitive. Alonso was in form. There was just the quite significant problem of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between team and driver. Alonso never felt at home at McLaren-Mercedes, as it was then, and at the end of the season he and the team agreed to part ways. Alonso went back to Renault for 2008.
Unfortunately for Alonso, the 2008 Renault was nowhere near as good as that year’s McLaren. Alonso finished a distant fifth in the championship while Lewis Hamilton, in a car Alonso could have been driving, won the championship. Had Alonso stuck it out with McLaren, it is quite possible that the 2008 championship would have been his.
Another season with Renault followed, in which it became apparent that the car was simply not good enough. Alonso failed to win a single race in 2009, and at the end of the season made a high-profile switch to Ferrari.
From 2010 to 2013, Alonso gave his all for Ferrari, comfortably out-performing team-mate Felipe Massa and generally competing, to at least some degree, for the championship. But all four of those seasons were won by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.
And here is perhaps the most unfortunate of Alonso’s career decisions so far. When he left McLaren to return to Renault for 2008, there was another team rumoured to be interested in his services. That team was Red Bull.
Had he made the move to Red Bull, Alonso could quite conceivably have dominated Formula in the same manner that Vettel did. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Alonso went to Renault and struggled in an under-performing car.
Alonso’s final season for Ferrari, 2014, was another year of struggle with an inferior car. The Ferrari power unit was no match for that of Mercedes, and Alonso once again was not able to challenge for the championship.
In his most recent career move, Alonso made the switch from Ferrari to McLaren for 2015. The much anticipated reunion of McLaren and legendary engine supplier Honda was expected to provide Alonso with a way back to the top of the results sheets.
But again, it seems to not have worked out, although it’s still very early in the season. Alonso missed the first race in Australia due to a concussion from a heavy crash in testing, but in his absence, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and reserve Kevin Magnussen were well off the pace, as Honda struggled to provide the power required for the car to be competitive.
The McLarens occupied the back row of the grid in Australia, and look likely to be quite far down the order again for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. It promises to be a tough season for Alonso, unless Honda can get their act together quite quickly.
And here again, Alonso seems to have made the wrong move. Or at least he appears to have moved at the wrong time. A resurgent Ferrari are currently best-of-the-rest to Mercedes, ahead of Williams to the surprise of the entire F1 field. Sebastian Vettel, who moved from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari at the end of last year, is revelling in the pace of the car and scored his first podium for the team at his first attempt.
Will McLaren come good for Alonso? For the sake of Formula 1, one can only hope. It is a real pity that one of the true greats of the sport has had such poor luck with cars. Unfortunately, 2015 doesn’t look like being the year his fortunes will change.
Sebastian Vettel shocked the racing world this morning by announcing his retirement from Formula 1 with immediate effect. Vettel is looking forward to spending more time with his model train collection, a pleasure that his hectic Formula 1 schedule had made all but impossible for the past few years.
Speaking from his Thurgovia, Switzerland home today, Vettel expressed relief that he had finally come to this difficult decision, saying, “It’s such a weight off my shoulders. This whole domination thing… it’s not really me. I prefer to just have fun in my sport. Winning’s really not my main priority.
“It’s been hard for me in Formula 1. Although I come across as a ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to win a race, I’m really a softy at heart. I felt bad for all the other guys every time I beat them in the last four years. They wanted those championships so badly, but I was really just here for the free energy drinks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not surprised by Vettel’s decision. He praised the young German’s courage in taking such a selfless step, saying, “Seb’s just such a nice guy. He feels it’s time for Fernando [Alonso] to get that third title he’s wanted for so long, and he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if he [Vettel] isn’t there anymore.
“As for all of us at Red Bull, we fully support Seb’s retirement. Our projections for the 2014 season had us just beating Mercedes and Ferrari at the last race, but with Seb gone, it looks like we’re out of the fight now. It’s only fair, really. We’ve had enough success.”
Horner also suggested that Vettel may have patched up his relationship with Mark Webber, Vettel’s former team-mate at Red Bull. Webber confirmed the good news, describing the plans he and Vettel have for the future:
“Seb’s such a great guy. We had our problems in the past, but it was all because I didn’t understand Seb’s motivation. He didn’t want to beat me so comprehensively. All he really wanted was to make sure he earned as many free Red Bull drinks as possible. I didn’t know he got a crate for every lap he led for Red Bull. If I’d had that in my contract, I’d have driven a whole lot faster.
“Now that he’s decided to hang up his helmet, we’re going to spend some time together with our model trains. Between us, we’ve got a big enough collection to cover the Monte Carlo street circuit. We’re hoping to put it on show for this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, assuming Bernie [Ecclestone] will allow it.”
Ecclestone was not available for comment. He was too busy listening to the sound of V8 engines with a vacant grin on his face to answer questions about Formula 1.
The latest Formula One car to be unveiled in the 2014 pre-season is the Ferrari F14 T, the car that will be driven by Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in this year’s World Championship.
As with all of the cars revealed thus far, the most striking feature of the F14 T is the nose, although Ferrari have gone with a different solution to that seen on the Williams, McLaren and Lotus cars. Whereas its rivals have generally gone with very thin ends to the nose, Ferrari have gone for a wider, flatter nose, which makes the car the most attractive (the word is used cautiously) to be unveiled yet.
Ferrari are the first team to show images of the rear-end of their 2014 car. However, it appears that they have fitted a dummy diffuser for the photographs. As the diffuser produces a significant amount of downforce, it is not unusual for the teams to keep their diffusers under wraps as far as possible before the season starts.
The rear-end image shows the rear-exiting exhaust well. The lower beam wing seen on F1 cars from previous years is conspicuous by its absence, as it has been outlawed by the regulations for this season.
In terms of other noticeable changes on the car, the sidepods are larger than on last year’s car, as required by the regulations, and the front wing is narrower.
The F14 T will make its testing debut in Jerez, Spain on Tuesday 28 January.