Fernando Alonso’s set to be announced as a Renault Formula 1 driver today and will rejoin the team for the 2021 season to replace Daniel Ricciardo.
It’s a great victory for Renault as the team lands a blockbuster driver to front its stuttering works project. That’s not meant to be an insult to Esteban Ocon, a very talented young man who could develop into a real Renault ‘darling’ as a top-line French driver.
But Alonso is ‘box office’ for Renault and F1 and a true superstar. As a two-time world champion he is too good for Renault to pass up. Whether it will work, though, I’m not so sure. And this is why I’m not convinced it’s the right decision. Alonso left F1 at the end of the 2018 season, saying he needed motivations and challenges elsewhere that F1 could not provide.
It’s perfectly reasonable that having tried and failed to win the Indianapolis 500 and enjoyed two Le Mans 24 Hours victories with Toyota against minimal opposition, Alonso has realised that nothing is as much of a challenge as F1. Well, nothing he can compete properly in – the Dakar Rally is unlike any grand prix!
If that’s the case then Alonso’s comeback is understandable, because he wants to be on the grid and prove he’s still top-drawer. But…why should Renault be any different to what McLaren would have been if Alonso stayed? There’s no evidence that Renault has the ability to be more than just a leading midfield team because it’s failed to convincingly show it’s ‘best of the rest’. McLaren finished fourth in the championship last year, and Renault’s started the 2020 season behind its engine customer (again) and also Racing Point.
So, why should Renault be the team that’s going to ace it when a cost cap comes in and there are major new technical rules?
It’s great to have Alonso back because, as I said at the start, he’s ‘box office’. But Renault’s got a class act in Ocon who could/should be given chance to lead the team, and I don’t see Alonso having the patience to wait for Renault to become a race winner again. And there’s also the risk that Alonso, who will turn 40 during his comeback season, will not be the same driver he was before. If he is, if Renault makes progress, if Ocon doesn’t get shunted into the shadows, then this could work all-round and be a fantastic story for F1.
But my fear is it’ll be an underwhelming second ending for a great F1 career, and potentially disrupt Ocon’s potential as well.