Alonso, Grosjean, Vettel, Bottas

Alonso? Vettel? Bottas? Who should Renault hire as Ricciardo’s replacement?

2021 F1 season

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Renault are giving themselves time to decide who should take the seat Daniel Ricciardo has left vacant for the 2021 F1 season.

That year has long been the focal point of Renault’s gradual rebuilding programme since it returned to F1 four years ago. That has been disrupted not only by the abrupt departure of Ricciardo, but also the sport’s decision to postpone new technical regulations to 2022.

The team therefore finds itself in something of a quandary as to who to appoint. Does it need a one-year seat-filler? An A-list racer who can spend a year acclimatising to the team to ensure they’re ready to hit the ground running in 2022? Or are Renault thinking something quite different entirely?

Here are some of the options they might consider as candidates for Ricciardo’s seat.

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Melbourne, 2013
Vettel won all his titles with Renault power
As covered previously, Vettel’s options look thin among the ‘big three’ teams who might immediately hand him a race-winning, title-contending car. His best options might therefore be an upcoming manufacturer, and if not Aston Martin, then Renault might fit the bill very well.

Vettel won all four of his world championships with Renault power and was often quick to praise them, particularly for their development of the exhaust-blowing technology which was key to the competitiveness of the late V8 era Red Bulls.

At 32 years old, Vettel is at a career crossroads, with potentially one last opportunity to go into a team and build it around him. However taking a seat another driver decided wasn’t good enough for them will require swallowing a bit of pride.

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Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Imola, 2005
Alonso took two championship victories at Renault
Having won two world championships, both with Renault, the attraction of Fernando Alonso is obvious. He is also a formidable competitor and hungry for a chance to prove himself again in Formula 1 – he always left a door open for a return during his stint in the World Endurance Championship for Toyota.

He will spare no one’s blushes in his pursuit of a more competitive car (“GP2 engine!”), but if Renault is serious about become title contenders, a dose of Alonso’s uncompromising toughness may be just the medicine they need.

Valtteri Bottas

The idea that Valtteri Bottas would voluntarily jump ship from the world champions seems more than a little far-fetched. His name has been bandied about owing to reports his manager Didier Coton has been in contact with Renault as well as Red Bull.

Unless Mercedes is seriously entertaining the thought of bringing Vettel in alongside Lewis Hamilton – which also seems unlikely – it’s doubtful the chatter around him amounts to much more than Coton doing the usual rounds of the driver market as he prepares to ink a new deal with the Silver Arrows.

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Nico Hulkenberg

Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Yas Marina, 2019
Could Hulkenberg replace his former team mate?
An obvious and straightforward option would be to bring back the driver they dropped at the end of last season. The parting between Nico Hulkenberg and Renault seemed fairly amicable – much more so than Ricciardo’s departure, which managing director Cyril Abiteboul issued a prickly acknowledgement of.

It’s hard to imagine Hulkenberg getting a better offer given the current driver market situation, but a reunion would scream ‘marriage of convenience’.

Kimi Raikkonen

A left-field choice. Raikkonen will be 41 by the end of the season and out of contract at Alfa Romeo. But he clearly still enjoys his racing and gelled well with the Enstone team when he returned to F1 with them eight years ago.

Has the enforced hiatus given Raikkonen a taste for a life at home, or an opportunity to recharge his batteries and an appetite to carrying on racing further into his forties? If it’s the latter, Raikkonen could be an attractive choice for Renault.

Romain Grosjean

Grosjean got his first two F1 breaks with Renault, stuck with the team during its increasingly difficult incarnation as Lotus, but moved on when the manufacturer returned at the beginning of 2016. Although he’s taken some excellent results at Haas, especially in those giant-killing early seasons, a couple of messy years have seen his reputation take a hit.

Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica, Renault, Hungaroring, 2017
Kubica returned to Renault six years after his rally crash
What Robert Kubica might have accomplished at Renault in 2011 had it not been for the appalling injuries he suffered in a rally crash that year remains one of F1’s great ‘what if’ questions.

Renault aided Kubica’s return to F1, giving him a test drive in one of their cars in 2017. He endured a tough season at Williams last year, but landed a reserve driver role at Alfa Romeo for this season.

Over to you

Who should Renault hire to partner Esteban Ocon in 2021? Do they intend to stay in Formula 1? Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

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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32 comments on “Alonso? Vettel? Bottas? Who should Renault hire as Ricciardo’s replacement?”

  1. It depends on a great number of things. If Ocon convincingly beats Ricciardo next year, perhaps they would be comfortable to go for someone in the junior ranks like Zhou, who will likely slot in as Number 2. If Ricciardo destroys Ocon, then they’ll surely need to go after a bigger name such as Alonso, Vettel or Bottas to placate the board.

    What I would do:
    I’d be throwing everything at Bottas. A proven race winner, not disruptive and a solid pair of hands to compete with their future star and use as a yardstick. Short of that I’d try to get Hulkenberg back.

    What I hope they do:
    I’d love to see them take on Alonso or Vettel. Alonso’s disruptive presence is exciting as a viewer. Vettel is the same to a lesser degree but has more time on his side.

    What I think they’ll do:
    I can’t see the Alonso link working. I think they’ll try to sign Vettel, who won’t be convinced. They’ll then take aim at Bottas, who will be interested only if ousted from Mercedes. If all else fails on a big name, they’ll take Zhou or Christian Lundgaard as a cheap option, probably in favour of Grosjean or someone like that.

    1. @ben-n does not your reply in some ways indicate the bigger problem that Renault has, which is the lack of a clear forward vision for what they want?

      The problem is that a number of drivers are being suggested as it’s not clear what role the driver would need to fulfil for Renault. Are Vettel and Alonso the sort of driver they need right now, or do they need a driver who might have a different set of skills?

      Can we even be certain that Renault’s long term future in the sport is secure enough for a driver to even want to necessarily chase a seat at Renault? If you’re in the place of Vettel or Bottas, signing for Renault is not necessarily that attractive given the risk that, if they close, you’ll then be left high and dry with no chance of signing for anybody else (particularly if Bottas does have the option of extending his contract at Mercedes).

      1. Indeed, the bigger problem is to understand where Renault really stands in the competitive field and what the strategy is to improve from there.
        In order to answer those questions, they should focus on hiring somebody like Vasseur; recent history, comments, and performance from them convinces me that they will not get to that clarity with the current guy at the top.

      2. Absolutely. Are we looking for a Number One driver? A Number Two driver? A solid midfield line-up? A superstar who can push to the title?

        Potentially luckily for Renault, in my opinion, Bottas is the answer to all of those questions. If he’s faster than Ocon he can take podiums and wins without pressure getting to him. If Ocon is faster he’ll back him up without too much whinging. If the car isn’t quick, he’ll be dependable enough to avoid trouble and pick up points regularly. If the car is quick, he can become part of a title fight.

        I’m not a great fan of Bottas, but I think he and Renault make for a perfect driver-team pairing at the moment.

      1. @ben-n your reasoning here makes a lot of sense. Bottas is only ever on one year extensions at Merc so if he thinks there is any chance this might come to an end soon, then a move to Renault would a good move for him and them.

        Hulkenberg would be safe choice and I don’t really see many downsides with him. I think Alonso might be a frustrating experience for both the team and him. Then I guess for Renault it’s a question of whether they want to fork out the extra costs (presumably) of employing Vettel. For him, would he be interested a future with them or will he get bored if he’s not challenging for podiums at least.

    2. I’d argue Alonso has more time on his side. Vettel just looks done mentally. Why Hulkenberg? They guy is the definition of mediocrity.

    3. Both Zhou and Lungaard need a good result in F2 (at least 4/5th) to qualify for a super licence.

    4. If Renault do remain in F1 then promoting Zhou may be the best thing for the car maker. China is one of Renault’s largest markets – in the world’s largest market – and having a Chinese F1 driver would be a great opportunity to give the manufacturer a huge boost.
      And he’s a good driver who is getting better every race.

  2. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    26th May 2020, 12:21

    I just can’t see someone like Vettel or Alonso going to a currently upper-midfield team and ‘rebuilding’ them due to the time it’s going to take – they’re not going to be going for championships for a while. Bottas would be a good option but that would seriously suggest Vettel’s going to Mercedes and I just can’t see that either unless Hamilton leaves, and if he does then Bottas wouldn’t need to go.

    So I’d take Hulkenberg back. He knows the team, knows the car and is a pretty good driver. But then I think Renault were wrong to get rid of him in the first place.

  3. If Renault do stay in F1 I think Vettel if he is willing to join as his experience would be invaluable in the development of the car. Next would be Grosjean good driver smart and good analytical skills. But maybe they should look to the future and sign the Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou.

    1. @johnrkh I’m not sure Grosjean is that smart a driver, he does tend to hit stuff like teammates a bit. And whinge a bit afterwards.

  4. Whoever buys the Enstone (ahem..Pantera…krhmkhm..), will try for Bottas but go for Alonso and settle for whoever-holds-the-biggest-load-of-money

    So, welcome Robert

  5. I find it hardly likely Kimi would do another team-change in F1. Most likely, he’s going to call it quits where he is at present. Kubica, I don’t regard him as a realistic candidate either.
    There’s one who, on the other hand, might potentially become a candidate, and that is Pierre Gasly should Renault try and lure him to leave the Red Bull-family behind him to join them as a free agent as they managed with his RBR-predecessor. In this scenario, he’d have to be a teammate to his old karting-rival, though.

    1. As you say, Raikkonen and Kubica are surely not realistic options; especially with Ocon ready to highlight just how poor the choice would be.

      Gasly is an interesting choice. I can’t see his poor relationship with Ocon getting in the way, I would imagine he’s mature enough to get over that in order to take on a manufacturer team contract. The question to me is why would they want him? Clearly he didn’t settle with the Red Bull car, but he was far off the pace of Verstappen and needs time to rebuild his damaged reputation. He certainly wouldn’t be my choice (probably not in my top 10 with a blank cheque).

      1. I disagree about gasly, I think he can drive a car as slow as renault, it’s when it comes to a top team that he struggles, and renault, unlike they say, will NOT challenge for titles anytime soon.

  6. Very left-field choice and unlikely to happen but I’ve always felt Sergey Sirotkin deserved an F1 return, and isn’t he still involved with Renault? But, otherwise, the only option on the list above that I wouldn’t find deeply irritating would be Alonso. Bottas, Hulkenberg, Grosjean have all had long enough in the sport without doing anything special. Kimi probably wants to retire before too long. Kubica unfortunately is now hopeless – last year he was outclassed by a rookie, and by a margin that hasn’t been seen for years. And Vettel – I just don’t like him, never have. Alonso, if he wants to return, is the best option and still has plenty of motivation – more than when he left F1, certainly.

  7. Grosjean for the ‘Frenchness’ would be fun, even though I’m pretty fed up of him.

    I wouldnt want to see Vettel or Alonso humiliated there.

    Bottas is the most likely and best bet. I bet he’ll shine there.

  8. Probably and investor

  9. Renault’s problem is that they are no ones first choice at the moment.

    The only way I can see Bottas ending up at Renault would be if Mercedes promote Russell to partner Hamilton and he didn’t land a Red Bull seat (which I also can’t see happening). Which means Vettel, Hulkenberg and Alonso are all much more realistic options (probably in that order too) for the regie.

    Signing Vettel would depend on whether he buys into the project and thinks it is possible that Renault could win a title in 3-5 years. I think this unlikely given that Ricciardo headed for the hills at the first opportunity. Seb’s probably angling for the outside chance of a drive at Mercedes or Red Bull (both of which are outside bets), so he may well be heading out to stud.

    Alonso strikes me as an outside chance, but one I would love to see as a fan. Alonso has still got it and he is a real character, the sport is worse off for him not being on the grid.

    Hulkenberg would probably bite Renault’s arm off for another shot, so I see him being the solid, justifiable, back up option for the team should they not land their number first, second or third targets (like Massa was for Williams in the winter of 2016).

  10. Neil (@neilosjames)
    26th May 2020, 14:34

    By the time this new driver appears, Renault will have spent two years of wasting a small fortune for Ricciardo to finish 6th or 7th, and that’s on a good day.

    If they actually approached things like a ‘works team’ with more investment and made a proper effort to bridge the gap to the front, it might be worth trying to get another top driver to replace him. But I can’t see that happening before the budget cap arrives and (perhaps) brings them into play a little more… so they’d just be wasting $20m or however much for some other driver to finish 6th or 7th on good days.

    So Alonso and Vettel would be out for me. Bottas would probably be very expensive to prise from Mercedes if they have even a thought of wanting to keep him (and I think they will, especially with the chassis carry-over), so I wouldn’t bother with him either. Raikkonen would be interesting but he’s so far from his best it’s getting silly now, and Kubica wouldn’t even be on my radar.

    For me it would be a choice of two old-but-not-too-old drivers who’d take a one-year deal. Hulkenberg knows the team, is solid and largely reliable, and as the car was built with Ocon in mind the famous Hulkenberg height (whether a real issue all the time or not) won’t be even a hint of a problem. And Grosjean (obviously Haas-reliant) would probably be cheap, with the added bonus of speaking the language and probably knowing a lot of the team as well.

    1. Very well put. The only thing that I’d differ on is the choice of Hulkenberg or even Grosjean for that matter as both would be more of a cost than they need to spend.

      For 2021, they might as well just go for a junior at a cheap price given that this years car (which is next years as well) is unlikely to be a world beater.

  11. Seb and Alonso = IndyCar
    VB and RG, stay put.
    On that list; The Hulk.

  12. That sim-racer, who drove instead of Abt.

  13. I predict, this part season is the last Renault season. There will be no 21 season for them, so there is no choice to make.

    1. I completely agree
      Just read a bbc article where a 5 billion dollar bailout for French car manufacturers is set to drop. Their focus is to be on the French market with an emphasis on electric car manufacturing.
      I can’t see how they will continue in F1
      May 29 a decision is being announced on Renault’s future plans as an auto manufacturer.
      I wouldn’t t be surprised If F1 program was chopped

  14. uh, Kubica is an option I had forgotten. it’s not so bad as it seems. As I’ve already stated in an old comment on this site, there’s still the possibility that Russell is the greatest talent ever in F1, we just don’t know. But he might still be. That would make one-and-a-half-arms Kubica a very decent asset to have in your car.

  15. hire gro so he leaves f1

  16. I saw a article about Mazepin Sr. looking buyout Renault. This can only be a good thing, because Renault under Cyril, is going nowhere but backwards.

    Assuming they stick around, I’d be surprised if Cyril hires an Alonso or Vettel. Their brutal honesty will certainly not sit well with him. Alonso will certainly push the team with his uncompromising relentlessness, which as Keith says, is exactly what they need, but I doubt it will work for Cyril.

    Bottas is a good bet, he’s a team player and should get on pretty well with Ocon.

  17. “Vettel won all four of his world championships with Renault power and was often quick to praise them, particularly for their development of the exhaust-blowing technology which was key to the competitiveness of the late V8 era Red Bulls.”

    Renault developed the blown diffuser? I always assumed it was Adrian Newey.

  18. If they couldn’t lure Alonso; or don’t have the cash for him. To me, the logical choice is Hulkenberg. He’s reasonably quick, a known entity and a good yardstick to measure Ocon against. Zero ramp-up and familiarisation required—just drop in and go effectively.

  19. Not Romain Grosjean, God, please.

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