Fernando Alonso, Toyota, Dakar Rally, 2020

Why Renault is right to choose Alonso over youth

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When news broke yesterday that Renault was shaping up to announce Fernando Alonso as its new driver for the 2021 F1 season, a hue and cry went up: ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children!’

Well, not quite ‘children’, but the decision to hand a seat to a driver who will be 39 at the start of the year gave cause to question Renault’s commitment to its junior drivers. Particularly as team principal Cyril Aiteboul just last year said they hoped to promote one of their youngsters to the F1 team in 2021.

Technically speaking, they have done: Alonso was one of the team’s junior drivers back in the early noughties. But pedantry aside, it’s not hard to see why the team’s current roster of junior drivers may feel disappointed at today’s development.

Of course Renault’s junior line-up lost one of its number in terrible circumstances last year. Anthoine Hubert, with two victories to his name in his rookie Formula 2 season, was tragically killed at Spa.

A few weeks later Abiteboul made his remark about looking to promote a young driver in the future. At the time the leading light of Renault’s young driver programme was undoubtedly Jack Aitken, who had won two titles in their Eurocup series four years earlier, and was in the thick of the F2 title fight.

Guanyu Zhou, F2, Virtuosi, 2019
Renault’s junior talents include top 2019 F2 rookie Zhou
Aitken, however, left the team at the end of the year. “I’m just not confident that they’re necessarily as invested in their junior driver academy as the junior drivers might hope,” he said, presciently as it turned out.

But while they may not have promoted from within, Renault can’t be accused of avoiding young talent. Last weekend 23-year-old Esteban Ocon started his first race for the team.

Here is a young talent which has too often been frustrated as he climbed the lower ladders of motorsport. Back-to-back championships in F3 and GP3 led not to F2, which they logically should have, but the backwater of the DTM. Fortunately an F1 seat became available midway through 2016, and Ocon got his break. But another setback followed at the end of 2018, when Force India showed him the door so a place could be found for their new owner’s son.

In Ocon, Renault already have a bright talent of the future. And they have more on the way: Guanyu Zhou, formerly of the Ferrari Driver Academy, who was robbed of victory in the season-opening Formula 2 race last weekend, is definitely one to watch, as is his stablemate and F2 rival Christian Lundgaard.

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But as Renault endeavour to become a title-contending force in F1 again they need an experienced hand alongside Ocon. Alonso fits the bill perfectly.

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Nurburgring, 2005
Alonso won his first title with Renault 15 years ago
Not only does he know the team well, having spent two stints with them, he knows what the team was like at its best: The potent force of 2005-06 which won back-to-back titles across a major change in engine regulations and against the might of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.

When the 2006 season drew to a close, few probably imagined Alonso’s second title would be his last for 14 years. He remains desperate to add a third.

How desperate? During his title-winning spell with Toyota’s World Endurance Championship team, Alonso is known to have stipulated a get-out clause in his contract permitting him to take advantage of any opportunity to return to Formula 1.

Alonso holds the unshaken view that, with suitable equipment underneath him, he remains a match for any of the sport’s stars, be they Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc or Sebastian Vettel. At times he has evinced a thinly-concealed contempt for the latter, burnished by four years of toiling in vain to stop Vettel’s Red Bull winning title after title, and coming oh-so-close to doing so Ferrari’s hopeless 2012 machine (the qualities of which Leclerc and Vettel may appreciate in the team’s latest creation).

He is not everyone’s cup of tea. The ‘I just drove my best race’ chest-thumping after dragging his McLaren-Honda to another 15th place grew old quickly. In the eyes of some, he is forever tainted by the events of Singapore 2008, despite being cleared of involvement in ‘Crashgate’.

But Alonso is a force of nature. A brutally uncompromising competitor who demands the utmost from his team and seldom fails to deliver the same. He may drag Renault’s underwhelming third-generation works F1 outfit to the championship by their nose-hairs or wreck them by trying.

More to the point, Formula 1 is supposed to be a contest of the world’s best drivers, and any champion who believes they still have what it takes deserves a seat.

However all of that pales in significance besides this selfish point: He’s older than me, and there aren’t enough Formula 1 drivers I can say that about these days. Welcome back, Fernando.

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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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56 comments on “Why Renault is right to choose Alonso over youth”

  1. I wonder where that leaves Alonso’s Indy 500 ambitions. The Indy 500 is in August this year, as currently planned, before Alonso is back in F1. Might be his last chance for a couple of years.

    1. I’m very sure Alonso’s negotiated a deal with Renault that allows him to the Indy 500 as well considering it is a week later than the Monaco GP for next week. To be honest i think that was the biggest factor in Alonso’s contract rather than monetary terms.

      Zak Brown already hinted about this saying Alonso could race in a car qualified by another driver.

      But who knows he may not need to go to Indy ever again!

      1. Gavin Campbell
        8th July 2020, 15:15

        Yeah but Indy takes up the whole month of May – because there is practice and then qualifying takes place the weekend before the race (bump and carb days).

        So although the races do not clash I don’t see how you could qualify if the Monaco weekend is on the weekend before. Also you need the practice sessions to setup the car as its very important for oval racing.

        I think it was only possible that time because he skipped Monaco and there was a two-week break before.

    2. Chances? What are you talking about? All he needs is 1 ;)
      :) :)

      1. He’s already had two.

  2. They are wrong.
    And it will become apparent by mid-2021. To everyone.

  3. Hope he will make the most out of his time at Renault and maybe who knows return to his winning days. I don’t know but I have a strong feeling that he will end up higher in the WDC standings than Sainz and make Ferrari regret not signing him instead.

    1. Abiteboul, Ocon and Alonso in one team…that might even be a worse package than Ferrari. Alonso is one of the greatest of all time in terms of skills. We never got a chance to really see it since he … up his own career all the time by being a total … Lets see how long it will last this time. He has burned all of his ships behind him already

  4. I think it’s a great opportunity, a great time for him to come back. It’s funny thinking back now about how his career has gone. A prodigious young talent, he bacame the youngest ever world champion in his fifth year – though arguably his third ‘proper’ year after a year in the doldrums with Minardi and a year as a test driver in ’02.

    It’s bizarre to think that his first championship was 15 years ago. When he raced his first F1 race, Lando Norris was still a baby. When Hamilton joined McLaren alongside him in ’07, he was considered the experienced veteran, despite being in his twenties. His career since that fateful season has been one plagued by poor career decisions unfortunately. Some of which only appear poor in hindsight, in the same way that Hamilton’s move to Mercedes only seems good in hindsight.

    Point being, in the tail end of the 00’s, nobody would have predicted that Ferrari would have such a slump and that RBR would begin a period of domination. Before the introduction of the V6 power units, nobody would have predicted the fall of McLaren and the rise of Mercedes. Both falls from grace, and the respective rises in fortunes of other teams, came about as a result of significant rules changes.

    It seems far fetched right now, to imagine that Mercedes might struggle suddenly when the rules change for ’22. But as history shows, no period of domination lasts forever. And when one team falls, another will rise. Why not Remault then?

    it might just be, finally, a move int he right direction for Fernando.

    1. @mazdachris Well said. I would only add that he did say when he left Mac and F1 that he would consider a return, so obviously that was not just rhetoric or wishful thinking. I’d be surprised if Renault improves that much to justify his talent level, and I’m sure FA knows they have a mountain to climb, however, as you say one never knows. FA sure knows he is not jumping into a top 3 package but is obviously wanting the challenge. I’m expecting him to be well held back by the car next year, but I’m completely stoked to see him in a 2022 car in a driver vs driver series, even if Renault is still mid-level, which I frankly expect. Great new chapter for FA and all F1 fans as I think no matter the car level he is going to shine in close combat cars significantly unaffected in dirty air. I would not at all be surprised, and actually expect that a big motivator for FA is the wholly new style cars for 2022, and I think we’ll see some thrilling action from him no matter the car level, which should matter a little less in a series that accents the driver more, and should separate the men from the boys more.

    2. Good post. Sums up his career to date very nicely.

    3. @mazdachris That’s exactly why people saying “poor career choices” miss the point. When Fernando left Renault, he got the top deal at McLaren, which instantly delivered even if the championship slipped away. Had things gone smoothly there, he’d have had a competitive car in 2007 and 2008, while Renault had reached its prime and he surely knew things weren’t going to go as well as 2006.

      Once he forced himself out of McLaren, he got the much anticipated deal for Ferrari for 2010. Back in 2009, Ferrari were the reigning constructors champions for a second year in a row. And 2010 proved his decision was correct, even if it still didn’t deliver the title he wanted. He should’ve won that if not for the strategic blunder.

      It was hard to imagine Ferrari being the mess they have been since that year back then. They had adjusted to post-Schumacher era fine with Kimi and Felipe. But it all went downhill.

      Then he got the McLaren-Honda deal. Who honestly thought that could go THAT wrong? it made so much sense, in a way, a good team like McLaren betting on a manufacturer deal, just like Red Bull supporting itself on Honda now. The project just wasn’t mature enough… but the career choice he had at the time made sense.

      Hindsight is a beautiful thing. You look back, from now, and you see a career of failure after 2006. But look from 2006 forwards, and the picture is a lot more different.

      I, for one, welcome our bearded old overlord. I think it’s fantastic to have him back in F1. He’s one of the greatest, and I don’t think there’s a better championship driver like he is, in the way that he’s relentless, doesn’t make mistakes and extracts everything from the car and the people he has around. It’s like watching Nadal playing Roland Garros, at 200 mph…

  5. I like Alonso’s ‘shtick’….great to see him back in the cockpit.

  6. Taki Inoue just said that Liberty media is desperate to get more viewers in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries so they need Spanish driver.

    It’s so ridiculous that I think it’s true.

    1. It could be true.

      Dorna, the commercial rights holder for MotoGP, have been quite open in saying that they are looking to secure a 2021 ride for the Brit, Cal Crutchlow. They’re doing so as, without him, there’s no British riders.

  7. It will be weird seeing such an old guy on the grid, with most top drivers having less than 25 years.

    1. You must really struggle seeing Kimi on the grid right now then…

    2. If you grew up watching pre 2010’s F1 you wouldn’t think twice about his age.

  8. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    8th July 2020, 13:22

    Nah, can’t shake the feeling it’s bad. Renault aren’t near the podium and probably won’t be for a couple of years at least so the probability of Alonso gaining a podium, a win, a pole or a championship are remote. He’s going to be fighting for the latter edges of the top 10 unless someone has a well-timed crash. Again. Can’t say I’m happy to see him back.

    No doubt the guy is talented, one of the best champions, but for years he’s been in poor cars and touted how well he’d do if he was in a front running one. This Renault isn’t it, and I can’t help but wonder if he’d be in for a rude awakening if he found himself in that position. Also the… orchestrated chaos, that follows Alonso, is not one I think is very healthy.

    I do think there were better options and this move doesn’t speak much of Renault’s future ambitions and just suggests they’re more interested in looking at their past short term instead. Also if you’re going to “retire”, then go. Don’t come back. The amount of times now we’ve said goodbye only to see them pop up again a year or two later is just weird. Close a door and be brave enough to keep it shut.

    1. @rocketpanda Except that FA predicted his own return when he left a few years ago. So to me he didn’t just ‘pop back up.’ He showed that his words when he left we’re not just rhetoric.

      And yeah you’re right, the car is not going to be the greatest, but that is obviously not stopping him from trying, and he’s going into this eyes wide open.

    2. Alonso has far too much talent to not be in F1 regardless of where he finishes.

      Its almost criminal that THE best driver of his generation is not challenging for championships.

  9. Alonso is not going to change things at Renault – Renault will not make a step forward not till they get their engine and aero sorted. For those 2 things Alonso is going to be of little help – saving his salary and spending it on a few good engineers is their money better spend.

    Renault made the same mistake with Ricciardo – cost them a lot of money with not real benefit. A crap car stays a crap car regardless who you put in – the benefit of a great driver only pays itself if the car it top 6 material.

    I much more preferred to have seen Hulkenberg come back than Alonso.

    1. As much as I want to see Alonso back in F1, I agree.

      Part of me was hoping that Mercedes would throw caution to the wind and field Alonso and Vettel next season!

    2. My guess is they need a driver with some prestige to sell their F1 team to the Renault bosses.

      1. I agree that must have played a significant role in their thinking @paeschli. Signing Alonso is a show that the team is going somewhere.

        1. It will also help sell Renault vehicles in the Spanish parts of the world.
          That is why Renault is in F1. It’s their main business.

  10. Its weird, nobody said a thing when Mansell won his championship at age 39, and then the indycar title at age 40, or Michael Schumacher getting pole at Monaco age 43, Fangio winning his 5th title at 46, or Damon winning in ’99 age 39, Mario getting pole at Monza in the ridiculous ground effect cars at age 42, or even still being competitive at the Indy500 until age 53 (and then one last attempt in 2003 at age 63!!!) F1 isnt football, there is not a cut off point where fitness and talent falls off a cliff. Fighter pilots in the military can go all the way up to age 65. So just because a driver gets to the age 36-39, doesnt mean that they are ‘too old for F1’. Its just utter nonsense! Its not age that effects drivers, its responsibilities. Once you get married and have children priorities change in a person (maybe this would explain the last few years for Seb Vettel) And saying that the seat should have gone to a younger prospect……. well if that younger prospect was better than Fernando then they would be in the seat, and if they are young (and most importantly GOOD ENOUGH) then there is plenty of time to get into F1.

    1. In fairness, while I don’t disagree with your broader point, there was actually quite a lot of media sensation about Schumacher’s pole in 2012. His whole return to F1 with Mercedes was defined by people claiming he was too old and well past his best, and that pole at least signified that he was able to put in good laps. But every crash, every mistake, every time he was outqualified or beaten by Rosberg, the talk was always about how he was too old and couldn’t compete at the top level any more. There was even talk of how his eyesight and his reaction times as an ‘old man’ (in his early 40s…) made him a danger on the track.

      Sure, it was ageism plain and simple. And in hindsight, I don’t think anyone really appreciated at that point just how good of a driver Rosberg was. Schumacher was in good form in those years and if Mercedes had been the team it is today, I have no doubt he’d have been fighting for the championship.

      1. I agree, I dont think anyone really saw or understood how good Nico was at that time. And it definitely was ageism when it came to the negativity towards Michael’s comeback. And its ageism that leads to the negative comments towards this comeback for Fernando. He could, in theory, win the Indy500 this year, and no doubt, if the car is any good he will be competitive, he is that good.

        1. Agreed. Good dialogue between @gubstar and @mazdachris

          1. Jose Lopes da Silva
            8th July 2020, 18:12

            Agreed. As I said elsewhere, I think Schumacher’s comeback was a success in the sense that, since 1970, no other driver above 40 years old achieved such success. Rosberg is 17 years his junior. He performed 3 seasons at the highest level, got a ‘pole’ and a podium and etc. Mansell won a race after 40 years old, but only because Schumacher put himself and Hill out of the way.

    2. Gubstar, actually, quite a few of the examples that you list kind of were outliers, which does show up when you take a closer look at the statistics.

      When Mario Andretti picked up pole in 1982, he became one of only five drivers in the history of the sport to have ever been awarded a pole position whilst being over the age of 40 and the first driver in 12 years to achieve that feat (the previous person being Brabham at the 1970 Spanish GP). Nigel Mansell was the next one after that, in the 1994 Australian GP – after that, it was 18 years before Schumacher then set his fastest time in the 2012 Monaco GP.

      Mansell, too, was actually comparatively old to have won the World Drivers Championship in 1992 – he was the fifth oldest to win a title and the oldest driver to have won the title in 24 years, as the last driver who was older than him to win a title was Graham Hill in 1968. Furthermore, he was driving what is sometimes considered to be one of the most technically dominant cars for its year – we’re talking about qualifying seconds ahead of other drivers.

      With Fangio, what you are forgetting is the context in which he won his titles – he might have been in his 40s, but so was a lot of the rest of the grid as well. Because WW2 meant that a lot of young men who would have become racing drivers didn’t start their careers until the early 1950s, the average age of drivers on the grid in the early to mid 1950s ranged from mid to late 30s (in 1954 and 1957, the average age was about 39) – by 1958, the average age had dropped back down to about 30, and the average age of drivers from the late 1950s to pretty much the modern day has normally ranged between a fairly narrow band of 30-32 years old.

      It’s not to say that it is impossible and that it is an abrupt transition, but a number of the cases you cite are, by historical standards, relatively rare cases. It can be done, but the likelihood of a driver remaining competitive when they are approaching their early 40s does drop off rather noticeably and not many have maintained that level of competitiveness.

  11. I don’t get the negativity either. Was at the peak of his powers when he ended Vandoorne’s F1 career. At his best he’s the most complete (if not outright quickest) driver on the grid. If Renault produce something half decent for 2022 he could be in the hunt for the championship.

    Yes he’s almost 40 and Schumacher’s comeback wasn’t much to write home about. But Alonso has been racing and I personally believe he is more talented/adaptable driver.

    Vettel spinning every other race made me miss someone who always gets the most out of every situation. I wonder how good last year’s McLaren really was.

    I don’t particularly rate him as a person, but here’s to hoping he gets the 3. title he so very much deserves.

  12. I am a pessimist regarding this comeback and can’t really see the point. Bit like Schumacher in 2010, the most obvious question is why? Yes, there is the potential for Renault to come good, but based on what we have seen so far, that is rather unlikely. With 2021 being written off with the development freeze, it will be 2022 at the earliest that Renault or Alonso can expect some success. It is not like the situation with, say, Williams in the 90s, when basically the team could hire any good driver and they would be an instant championship contender. We are talking about a midfield team, hoping to make the leap forward, and last time Alonso was in such a situation, it did not end too well. Then again, if both parties want this, why not…

    1. Shumi made more sense to me. He knew what he was getting into and wasn’t spending every press session incessantly whining about how he just delivered the best drive ever and the team is letting him down.

  13. Good read, well argued. I tend to agree with it. Even though not even Alonso is older than I am!

  14. Apart from already knowing the team, all those arguments could be used to defend the return of Hakkinen, Rosberg or even Stewart.

    Alonso is a divisive guy, Mclaren and Honda improved almost nothing with him and both of them improve a lot as soon as they left him.

    Alonso is very good in making the others see him as important, and is also very good as turning the team to him (the only time he couldn’t he lost to a rookie and left the team) he knows that a 15th place is good if the teammate finishes 19th, that was is motto in mclaren.

    On the other side, I agree with Keith, another driver older than me makes me feel younger.

  15. I just don’t believe Dan will be too angry if he’s elbowed aside mid season.

    He gets his money and becomes free to spend his time in the McLaren garage.

    1. It’s a possibility, depends on how much they’d have to pay Alonso. I’d considered it after Sainz / Ricciardo signed to jump ship – quite a long time ago – at least two of the prospects Hulk & Alonso could have slotted in for the first race. I think don’t think any on the grid would take a holiday over a race – Cyril would need to keep his insurance paid up.

  16. You look back over Alonso’s career and he’s consistently made bad team moves. I think this will be another. If only he’d have had the patience to stick with McLaren he’d have likely already had podiums last year and this.

    Instead, next year we’ll see him dragging a midfield car to points finishes at best. It’s a bit mediocre. And you just know that by the time he retires (again) Renault will go on the have podiums!

    Having said that Ocon v Alonso will be fun to watch.

  17. get ready for a season of childish diva whining and annoying radio calls.

    also shows the level of sportsmanship we are dealing with when F1 allows a proven cheater that tarnished the entire sport.

    this song is getting very old.

    1. Schumacher and Senna are proven cheaters, yet are heralded as the best drivers of all time. Alonso hasn’t been proved guilty of Crashgate, so your point becomes invalid.

      1. Senna a cheater that is new to me Ruthless yes even Schumacher i can place him in that but either two have ever let teammate crash to get the win. So if you say cheater that i expect that you can prove that.
        Ruthless and Dirty yes (Hill and Schumacher is a corner for example and Senna and Prost coming to gether)

  18. If a driver has the determination and the willing to push for every tenth of a second, it’s not for me to say they are too old.

  19. All those F2 newbie racers.

    Alonso brought GP2 engine to F1, and gave us endless fun.

    This is #3 most anticipated comeback, third only to Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. They were not available.

  20. Finally agree with Keith on something.

  21. I also don’t see Zhou or lungaard as fully ready
    A finish in the top 3 of the final F2 championship would be a good pre-f1 target… a target zhou may reach this year or the next (though I doubt it), and lungaard probably later

    Also for a regulation shake up the team needs a proper F1 driver with a lot of experience to sort out the first tests… Even bringing back hulkenberg would have been better

  22. I suspect Fernando is just about young enough to make a comeback, and I wish him the best of luck. However, I fear the Renault is going nowhere the next couple of seasons, if ever.

    When Hamilton moved to Mercedes, there was some promise and excitement that maybe the team was building up after the take-over of Brawn GP, and perhaps they would be really well prepared for the new engine formula in 2014 (although nobody could suspect they would be that far ahead of the competition). With Renault, they have taken over from the ashes from the Lotus-Genii mess, and for a few years now we have been waiting for them to make a step; out of the midfield at least. After four years, I don’t believe they’ve scored even a single podium, so I hope for both Renault’s and Alonso’s sake that Fernando is content to spend his final two years in F1 scrapping in the midfield.

  23. Alonso is probably 3/10s a lap quicker than anyone else they could have put in the seat. Maybe apart from Vettel if that were an option. And Renault are not paying top money for him. So that’s seems like a good call for them and can be justified given Renault parent current money problems. But as a works team they ‘ought’ to be 3/10s a lap faster than their customer team, if they can address that (which I doubt this year), it moves them into contention.

    Also how many more bad results would it take from Vettel for the Vettel/Sainz/DR3/Alonso musical chairs to occur before end of season?

  24. As much as I dont like this idea, the more I think of it, this is a mutually beneficial deal for all parties I think.

    Alonso wants to race in F1, I’m pretty sure he knows he wont win again, but it isnt going to stop him trying. The man is a competitive animal, he probably missed the adrenaline rush of F1.

    This is a coup for Renault. Signing Alonso (at a cut price no less) legitimises the team, which will help justify their involvement in the sport. A star name next to a young photogenic Frenchman, make a good marketable package. Alonso will give the team a bench mark as well. He will push them hard. I’m sure guys like Alan Permane would welcome the feedback and pressure from Alonso, which can only be good for the team. How Cyril manages the dynamics of the team remains to be seen. On the surface at least, he seems out of his depth.

    Liberty will be happy too. One of the top racing drivers in the world back in F1, what can be better?

    #RenaultDPWorldKimoaF1Team #2021

  25. Pretty sure he’s been brought in to develop the new car which makes a lot of sense. If he’s still quick enough on race pace they may then keep him a little longer but ultimately he’s there to ensure they’re getting the best feedback they can on developing the car in the new regulations. If they got him cheap then even better for them given he’ll bring them some attention. It’s not like even Alonso can sour the team more than Abitboul does at present.

  26. Alonao cant develop a car. Engineers and aerodynamists do. Drivers give feed back in the direction they would like the car to be set up. But they cant make the car better than the engineers that designed it. Thats why at mclaren as good a driver as he is he could not make tthe car better. Because he did not and could not design the engines any differently than what mclaren were using at the time.

  27. Renault is going backwards, and will do so even faster this way. With the hulk they were on a good building up phase. All of that going to waste just for some media coverage… :-s

  28. Isn’t he busy trying to win the quadruple tiara of motorsport or some other made up pretendy title? Guess he must of got bored of it.

    He should be driving that two seater ‘F1 Experience’ Car, that way there’s be almost enough room to fit his ego in too!

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