Is an F1 comeback with Renault a realistic option for Alonso?

2020 F1 season

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During his five-year stint at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso lost two drivers’ championship fights to Sebastian Vettel.

Then, having seen Vettel surpass his own tally of race and championship wins, Alonso lost his seat at F1’s most famous and historic team to him as well.

So whatever the Spanish word for ‘Schadenfraude’ is, Alonso would surely be forgiven for a feeling a twinge of it following last week’s announcement that Vettel is on his way out of the Scuderia. Like Alonso before him, Vettel has thus far failed to win a title as a Ferrari driver.

But to be fair to Alonso, last week’s news was probably of far more interest because it promises to present him an opportunity to finally win the third world championship he craves.

The announcement of Vettel’s impending departure has already sent Carlos Sainz Jnr and Daniel Ricciardo to new teams for 2021. This has created a vacancy at Renault for next year, and immediately prompted claims from multiple publications that Alonso is in talks about filling the gap.

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Yas Marina, 2018
Alonso left F1 at the end of 2018
Is an F1 return at any team a realistic possibility for Alonso? If he does return for the 2021 F1 season he would line up for his 312th start as a 39-year old.

Let’s not rule him out on grounds of age: Kimi Raikkonen turned 40 before the end of last season and Michael Schumacher was 43 when he called time on his F1 career in 2012. More to the point, there was little sign Alonso’s competitive edge had dulled when he decisively beat Stoffel Vandoorne over the course of the 2018 season.

As for Renault, they may well have the means to hire him. Losing Ricciardo will relieve them of the $20 million he is believed to earn, while the team has already cut its wage bill by replacing Nico Hulkenberg with Esteban Ocon.

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The big question on the Renault side is whether it will remain committed to the championship. This was already in doubt before the pandemic hit: In October the company announced a ‘strategic review’ of its operations including Formula 1.

Its return to the sport in 2016 was a long-term plan intended to bear fruit when new regulations arrived in 2021, but some of these have been postponed by a year. All eyes are on new CEO Luca de Meo and the direction he charts for the team.

Facing these options, retirement is Vettel’s best choice
A return for Alonso would undoubtedly be a gamble. Renault slipped from fourth to fifth in the championship last year.

However Red Bull proved the engine can win races in the right chassis. Alonso will have taken note of how much better the Pat Fry-honed McLaren MCL34 performed than the car he drove the year before, and Fry is now installed at Renault.

Whether that gives Alonso sufficient confidence in the Renault project remains to be seen. But even with two world championships to his name and 32 race victories scored with three different teams, he undoubtedly still considers F1 unfinished business.

At his final F1 race weekend in 2018, in response to a question from RaceFans, Alonso said returning to F1 was not out of the question.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” he said. “Maybe next year by April or May I’m desperate on the sofa. Maybe I find a way somehow to come back.”

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Alonso has already achieved his goal of winning the Le Mans 24 Hours. He wants to conquer the Indianapolis 500 and Dakar Rally, but these opportunities should still be open to him later in his career. That may not be the case for F1.

What’s more, he has been careful to leave the door open for a potential F1 return up until now. RaceFans understands his deals to drive for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship always included provisions for him to return to F1 if the right opportunity came along.

Renault was the team which brought Alonso into Formula 1, made him a world champion and gave him a refuge after his catastrophic fall-out with McLaren in 2007. Perhaps it now offers his last, best chance to win again in F1.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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63 comments on “Is an F1 comeback with Renault a realistic option for Alonso?”

  1. With Cyril at helm no Alonso should give Renault a snub and concentrate on Indy.

  2. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    18th May 2020, 13:00

    I really don’t see why he’d bother coming back with Renault. He’s unlikely to be grabbing a championship, poles or race wins with them for at least a few years – if they ever get back there, so the best he’s looking at is the occasional podium. So why come back at all? The only reason to come back would be because he enjoys driving but is that enough? If Renault stick around – which feels uncertain anyway, they’d be better off going for the humble pie and getting Hulkenberg back and focusing on building a car and team that ‘big name’ drivers WANT to get in rather than having them pay them huge amounts to do it.

    1. He wants to be in F1 and still be “relevant”. It’s incredible how people still don’t know how Alonso is after all this years…
      He wants the fame and money above the results.
      He went to McLaren to earn more money than in Ferrari. He was 5 years doing an absolute ridiculous, and he still wanted to continue, until McLaren decided to get rid of him.
      Button in 2 years he retired, after getting tired of so ridiculous situation. But Alonso wanted to be in F1 at all cost, without looking to the results, just to earn more money and still be in F1 and be famous.

      1. Lets make a summary:
        He leaved McLaren and McLaren won the championship with Hamilton the next year…
        He leaved Renault and Raikkonen obtained big results with Renault including some wins.
        He leaved Ferrari with 2 podiums in his last year. The next year Vettel won several races and got lot of podiums. Raikkonen too.
        He leaved McLaren after 5 years without a podium (the best payed driver by far on the grid), and the next year. The cheapest options in the grid, Sainz and Norris obtained better results, with 1 podium.

        1. alex, there is a lot of rather selective cherry picking going on there, not to mention that you are deliberately choosing to avoid mentioning a lot of rather inconvenient details that undermine your arguments.

          For example, take your comments about Ferrari in 2014 and 2015 – what you also forgot to mention is that, during the 2014 season, Ferrari fundamentally restructured their entire technical department.

          During 2014, they changed their Chief Designer, with Tombazis forced out in favour of James Allison and Simone Resta. The head of their engine department, Marmorini, was replaced with Binotto, with Lorenzo Sassi being appointed to a new position as Chief Designer Power Unit.

          The head of their wind tunnel department, their vehicle kinematics expert and the head of their tyre analysis division were all replaced, and the entire reporting structure of every single technical department was fundamentally altered.

          You also seem to forget that Ferrari gave their engine to AVL, an independent Austrian mechanical engineering company, for a fundamental redesign of the engine – the turbocharger unit in particular was heavily reworked – with the engine also being fitted with the more advanced turbulent jet ignition system that Mercedes were using in 2014.

          To put it bluntly, Alonso’s 2014 season coincided with the biggest change in Ferrari’s technical structure for at least 20 years – to pretend that didn’t make any difference is wilful blindness.

          1. So Alonso was innocent… it was all Ferrari’s fault.
            A bit to simple.

          2. erikje, whereas going “it’s all Alonso’s fault” wouldn’t be a case of somebody trying to overly simplify the situation?

            Seriously, though, do you not think that seeing a team going through a fundamental change in its technical structure is not going to have any impact on performance? Is it not rather more likely that having multiple heads of different departments being fired or reassigned and the internal management structure being overhauled is going to have a fairly detrimental impact on performance in that particular year, and in subsequent years as well?

            Look, I get it – people who hate Alonso want to blame him for anything and everything, to the point that they’ll probably even find a way to blame him for covid-19. In general, it feels that people are a lot happier to blame a driver than wanting to blame a team, particularly when it is a high profile team or when they have a particular agenda and it suits them to blame the driver instead.

    2. He could come back and do well and be in position for mercedes when bottas leaves or hamilton quits.

    3. petebaldwin (@)
      19th May 2020, 2:48

      I think this is all over-looking one key thing. Perhaps he wants to come back because driving an F1 car is fun….? Same reason Kimi still does it.

      1. That’s what I thought @petebaldwin. He’s in a position that few have the luxury of having, where if he does want to race in F1, he can. He may as well make the most of that advantage if he enjoys it. After the McLaren-Honda (and Renault stagnation) project he probably just needed some time away to reset.

  3. It would probably be a bad idea for all involved. Renault would expose their car’s failings (and that’s if Alonso’s sponsors make his return a 0 cost move to them) and risk massive friction between both sides of the garage. Alonso will probably not get a whiff of a chance before the major regulation change by which time he will be 41 and if everything stays the same, go up against a peak Occon… And that’s if Renault stay involved, invest enough money AND have a winning formula in 22. Having missed all the possible opportunities for the best drives those last 14 years, it would be impressive if he could pull off such an improbable path to championship glory.

    1. I hope Ocon gets to race this year otherwise they are on the same level (not had raced for several years)

  4. While it’d be great if it did, I personally don’t see it working. Alonso left Ferrari because they weren’t winning, he left McLaren because they weren’t winning; why, at 39, would he join a team further from winning than either of those teams?

    I think he’s the best driver (not necessarily the best option) available for Renault and surely they’d be mad if they didn’t try to open discussions with him for a season or two, but I can’t see him going for it.

    I actually think the best and most realistic option comes down to a choice between Sebastian Vettel, or resigning Nico Hulkenberg.

    1. @ben-n I doubt Seb would want to go there given the lack of chance for race wins next year.
      Another potential candidate besides the two you bring up in your last paragraph could be Pierre Gasly should Renault try and lure him to leave the RB-family like they managed to do with Dan. Although even if they could, it might be that he wouldn’t want to go there just because of who his teammate would be.
      Time will tell.

      1. You make a good point, Gasly could be a good option. And he might not be hard to lure, considering his time in the top team has meant he will never drive there again without extenuating circumstances.

  5. Not sure, looks more like Renault trying to tempt Fernando.

    They could use a star driver, what do they have to show for in their involvement with F1?

    1. They could use a star driver, what do they have to show for in their involvement with F1?

      Drivers’ Championships: 11 (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
      Race victories: 168
      Podiums: 454
      Points: 7,363.5
      Just sayin’

      1. Renault as engine supplier won most of the championships mentioned above not as a works racing team.

      2. @glennb as Chaitanya notes, it depends on whether you’re talking about being an engine manufacturer, or as a works manufacturer in their own right.

        Their record as a works team reads as follows:
        Drivers Championships: 2 (2005 and 2006)
        Race Victories: 35
        Podiums: 100
        Points: 1596

    2. what do they [Renault] have to show for in their involvement with F1

      Username checks out.

  6. So whatever the Spanish word for ‘Schadenfraude’ is, Alonso would surely be forgiven for a feeling a twinge of it following last week’s announcement that Vettel is on his way out of the Scuderia.

    It’s Schadenfreude and not Schadenfraude ;)

    1. @schummelschumi thank god! it shocked me when the translator said “damage woman”!

      1. Haha!

    2. You’ll drive yourself nuts if you pay attention to grammar and spelling on this site.

    3. There isn’t any Spanish Word for that. And while I’d think it’s a common feeling everywhere, I don’t know of any other language but German with a specific word for it. It is in the constellation of “envy” (“envidia” in Spanish) but not quite the same.

      1. Search and you’ll find…
        In classical Greek, no less, the exact concept is ἐπιχαιρεκακία (epichairekakia), and there is a seldom used derivation in English, “epicaricacy”. And no, you won’t find “epicaricacia” in any Spanish dictionary. But there are 862 Google impacts, so it’s not totally unheard of. “Regodeo” (gloating) is the closest equivalent you’ll find in common Spanish.

    4. it’s Alonso… the first thing that comes to mind is fraud

  7. If he does go to Renault, can he still do the Indy500?

    1. Old adage … “you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”
      Anything is possible.

  8. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    18th May 2020, 14:17

    Well 2019 was a terrible year for Renault. Red Bull outscored them 4 to 1 and that’s with a driver who was underperforming massively. McLaren switched engines and outscored Renault 1.5 to 1 with a driver team that was arguably underwhelming compared to Renault turning both drivers into heroes and Renault’s drivers into zeroes.

    Obviously it’s not the engine that’s at fault. They are the only engine manufacturer in F1 to underperform compared to their client teams. The combination of Cyril and Prost has obviously not produced the results it should have. Hulkenberg’s comment in his last race said it all.

    It’s unlikely that Renault will resurrect any driver’s career, except in racing against Renault in a Renault powered car.

    1. @freelittlebirds I’m not certain what you’re referring to with the ”Hulkenberg’s comment in his last race said it all” part, but if it’s his radio message on the cool-down lap after the chequered flag, I find it to be more sarcastic than serious.

    2. I love Prost and he was my favorite driver, but after seeing him run his team into the ground I don’t think management is his strong suite. I don’t know anything about Abitoil.

  9. Sure. Why not

  10. He’s not going to like it there any more than he did at McLaren. And if Ocon thought Verstappen was pushing him around, wait till he spends a season with Alonso.

  11. Why would Fernando come back to Formula 1 with a team that won’t win any races in the near future?

    1. @jlb That’s also my stance about this matter.

  12. As an Alonso fan, nowadays I would rather see him sign for the 3rd seat in Arrow McLaren SP; and commit the next 2-3 years of his life racing (and living) in America.

    I think he deserved at least 1 more F1 World Driver’s Title, but it didn’t happen and he should just leave at that. At the end of the day, he still has 2 Championships and 32 (equally hard fought) wins to his name — a remarkable achievement.

    Maybe Renault have turned a corner and 2019 was merely a blip (due to the new front wing regs); after all, the veterans at Enstone (Alan Permane, Bob Bell, etc.) always somehow made the organization the “little (big) team that could” — winning the odd race here and there. But I just can’t see the team under the leadership of the current Renault guys (Abiteboul and Prost) being championship contenders.

    If Alonso does sign and Renault (Abiteboul) fails to live up to its aspirations of title contention, I imagine the fallout that follows will make the “GP2 engine” episode (from Japan 2015) look mild.

    F1 is (should be) finished business for Alonso — his (generation’s) time has past. It’s time for him to re-shift his focus to winning the final piece of the Triple Crown (Indy 500), and create (more) success in other professional categories of motor racing.

  13. Everything resets for 2022 with new regs and budget cuts so if Renault gets freakishly lucky… They could be championship contenders. I say Renault need Alonso and Alonso needs Renault. The dream is still alive.

  14. I’d be very happy to see Alonso back in F1 for no other reason than he ‘s an exciting driver who, IMO, has still got what it takes. But Renault? It depends just how desperate they are. I was prepared to accomodate Abiteboul after some reservations but i now find him to be lacking any style and substance. Very disappointing. Yes, he was totally out of order with his comments re Ricciardo and for that reason he deserves censure. I have not read one complimentary report on that little ‘graceless’ episode. There was a glimpse of which way this was all headed when he announced that he wanted to see ‘new blood’ preferably from their own academy shortly after Ocon was announced. Now with Ocon signed until ’22 where did that leave Ricciardo? Couple that with a car that was sub par and Alain Prost’s comments that this years car will be much the same as last year and that the ’21 year car will also be the same meaning that Ricciardo will be left out to dry in a non competitive car , is it any wonder Daniel thought about pulling out and subsequently did so. Great move. McLaren will be a breath of fresh air by comparison. Now, does Alonso really want to get mixed up with a guy like Abiteboul?

    1. @kenji Until ’21, not ’22.

      1. @jere….’until ’22’ means that his two year deal expires at the end of ’21 and he will need to renegotiate his contract going forward into ’22. I would imagine that there are options in there for both parties.

  15. For a slightly different take on these discussion, where would this leave Ocon. He is still managed by Mercedes, loaned out to Renault to continue his development as a possible replacement for Bottas or Hamilton. If Alonso returns he’ll have undisputed Number 1 status which isn’t great for a driver hoping to prove himself in the other car. Especially when you consider how Renault have treated Alonso’s teammates in the past. I imagine if Alonso returned, Mercedes would immediately pull Ocon out of the other car.

    1. He is still managed by Mercedes, loaned out to Renault to continue his development as a possible replacement for Bottas or Hamilton.

      He might be managed by Toto Wolff (rather than Mercedes), but he is not ‘loaned out to Renault’, @yossarian.
      Ocon is on a normal multi-year contract and was fully released from his Mercedes deal when he signed with Renault.

    2. Alonso to Renault is just a dream. Renault back to the podium also a dream. But they do come true sometimes, as Sainz can now attest… :-)

      Renault have a front end very different from last year, slimmer and round. I assume some tweaks at the engine as well, so let’s see.

      Abiteboul would love to freeze Ricciardo until December, and maybe they can cut a deal with Alonso for 2020 since is only “half” a season. A race by race agreement, maybe?

  16. Way back when Alonso first started driving for McLaren, he made a comment about car development.
    He was really impressed by the steps and progress McLaren made. His complaint was that Renault didn’t do enough (any) of this in-season.
    Over the last few years, this seems to have been the norm at Renault. Hopefully the technical team can implement successful development.
    One aspect that there has been NO mention of.
    Renault is a car company and they race to sell cars (as differs from the Ferrari model). Will having Alonso on board, regardless of results, sell cars.? My take is yes.
    Will he win races or a championship.? Not likely.
    Will it be fun to watch … YOU BET it will. Bring it on.

  17. Didn’t he quit McLaren because he didn’t want to be at the back of the grid with no chance of winning? What’s going to be different with Renault?

    Quit wasting time and go to IndyCar full time! You’ll have a real chance of winning again, and increase your odds to win the 500!

  18. Alonso and Ocon, two drivers who have not raced in F1 since 2018, both difficult to manage, both prone to outrageous bad decisions in heated moments, both desperate to achieve success at any cost. Good luck Renault, you’ll need it.

  19. You make a bunch of good points in your article, Keith-both positive and negative.
    This part-the Alonso and Vettel portion-is going to be interesting.

  20. Personally I’d love to watch ALO again in F1, preferably at Merc or barring that, Ferrari or Red Bull. A third Renault stint will probably be better that his McL stint but worse than his Ferrari stint. A few podiums maybe, a win with a lot of luck. Another (or several) WDC seems totally out of the question. Is it worth it?

    VET I think is not worth 4 WDC and ALO is worth more than 2, but in F1 as pretty much everywhere in life you get what you get, worthy or not, The WDC score is hardly going to change. But, as they say, all quitters are losers.

    1. Agree with that about titles: people defended vettel in vettel vs ricciardo disputes by number of championships but mmmm, what’s the chance ricciardo would beat vettel again in the same car? I’d say 60% minimum, hence ricciardo is a world champion level driver and vettel is not a multi-champion level driver, alonso definitely is good enough to win a similar amount of titles as schumacher, he only lacks the ability to drive the team forward, so alonso would be more suited to the titles vettel won.

  21. Don’t see why Alonso would bother. If he joined them he’d only realistically have 2/3 seasons max left in F1, and Renault are not going to be WDC contenders in that timeframe (I think the fact Dan Ric left them at the first chance kind of confirms this).

    So Alonso could go back and his only real motivation would be to prove he’s still better than another young up and comer (Ocon) like he did with Vandoorne…but I don’t think that’s really the sort of motivation that’s going to bring him back to F1 at this stage of his career, he would want to win races and have a chance of the WDC.

    I can’t actually see a scenario where he comes back to F1 at all…especially since the 2nd Ferrari seat is now taken. Merc are probably getting Russell + Hamilton for 2021, and he won’t go to Red Bull because of the Honda connection, and also I don’t think he’d choose to take the 2nd seat even if offered, since he’d have Verstappen to go up against and that would jeopardise him ending his F1 career coming off second best against his team mate which I don’t think he’d want to risk.

  22. Renault seem to be immune from criticism so having Alonso adding to it shouldn’t bother them at all. I guess they’ll just need to make sure they have a deck chair manufacturer as a sponsor.

    If Alonso can pick up a few million for driving about half the required distances before retiring the car I say why not. He doesn’t seem to care all that much about his reputation so it’s pretty straightforward if Renault are crazy enough to put up the cash, he might as well take it and enjoy poking fun at them and the rest of F1 until they pull out of the competition altogether.

  23. I don’t see the value in it for Renault unless he drives for a fraction of his previous salaries and I don’t see why he’d be happy to do that in a car that can’t win. He should just sign up for a couple of full time indycar seasons to chase the indy 500 imo.

    1. Alonso’s had plenty of opportunities to join the Indycar show for full seasons – hasn’t – clearly isn’t interested in running in a spec series. I’m sure he would make it cheap for Renault, bringing sponsors to effectively race for peanuts compared to Daniel and marketing would be easy for Renault, they’re already doing it.
      On another point, who’s to say Alonso wouldn’t be good for Ocon? He seems to have done a great job training Hamilton.

  24. This could be mutually beneficial to both parties.

    Alonso will not be expecting a big paycheck, he will probably do a deal like he had during his last season with Mclaren. Lets be honest, the guy hardly needs the money. It just seems like he just wants to race at the highest level again. A bit like when Schumacher came back after 3 years. F1 is a drug and these guys are addicted.

    For Renault, they get a top line driver who would still be pretty quick and can lead the team, at a cut price deal. He may not be his “legendary” self anymore, but he is still better than a lot of drivers on the grid. He will push the team hard as well. I think we have to also recognise the fact that there are people at Enstone that know how he ticks, guys Alan Permane have been with him since he was a very young driver, and this could be make a difference.

    Having said all this, as an Alonso fan, who’d love nothing more than to see him back in F1, I sincerely hope he doesn’t come back. Even if he signs a 2 year deal, he isn’t going to win anything, probably wont even make the podium, Renault are that far back.

    Go to IndyCar mate, thanks for the memories.

  25. Just one question. If Alonso does return, will we have to endure that odious git Briatore lurking in the pits?

  26. My guess is the plan is to come back to F1 and show his ‘reformed self’, and together with obliterating Mercedes hopeful Ocon will put himself in the frame.

    And who knows? The Schumacher comeback, and even his McLaren return was just as left field.

    Wolff departs for Aston Martin, the new Mercedes boss thinks Alonso-Vettel at Mercedes for 2021 would be fun? Who wouldn’t?

  27. I think the ball is squarely in Renault’s court here. I was convinced that in 2021 (reg change) they would be fighting for wins and the Championship with Ricciardo – their track record when ramping up involvement is impressive. But with rumours of scaling back operations surfacing pre-covid, I can’t see how any responsible manufacturer can endorse a $400m/season outlay. This is one of the circumstances that led to my support of the cost cap – it’s 2009 all over again. If Renault decide to pull out or at least limit their support they will likely be the 6th fastest team in 2022 – probably not worth Alonso’s time. If they don’t, I think the reg change for 2022 gives them equal chance with everyone else. Enstone are masters of the tight budget, Renault are masters of the upscale – they need a master in the cockpit. With the tragic passing of Hubert and the scathing departure of Ricciardo I can’t see another driver who can fulfil the profile necessary to drive Renault to success.

    From Alonso’s side it’s a no-brainer – full support and he’s got a shot at wins against the next generation; no support it’s McLaren part 2, no thanks.

  28. I have an opinion
    19th May 2020, 8:45

    Ocon must be sweating bullets. Alonso killed the F1 careers of Vandoorne and Nelsinho.

  29. Jose Lopes da Silva
    19th May 2020, 9:36

    I’m still looking forward to see Lundgaard taking the seat.

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