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What is the real purpose of Alonso’s return?

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Fernando Alonso last raced in Formula One back in 2018, and walked away at the end of the season after four unsettling years at McLaren.  This year he will be returning to the sport, partnering Frenchman Esteban Ocon in the newly re-branded Alpine F1 team. After two full seasons away from F1, should he be coming back?

Every time I start this debate I always say “Don’t get me wrong,  he is a great driver”. He is. The Spaniard made a name for himself in the mid 2000’s, when he de-throned Michael Schumacher to win his first World Driver’s Championship in 2005. A feat that he repeated in 2006. He is a very worthy two time world champion. However, despite his achievements there is something that doesn’t sit well with me.

He was a main factor in the falling out between McLaren and Honda. He publicly ranted about the engine performance and reliability, not just over team radio, but to the world’s media as well. He is the type of driver that likes to rule the roost in a team and if things aren’t going well, he will share his opinion pretty loudly. He was unprofessional at times, sometimes arrogant. Yes, I know most F1 drivers can be like that, but some of his actions were childish and I can understand why some people now feel he is over rated.  For me, it isn’t just about how good you can drive.

Alonso to continue his F1 return preparations with 2018 car test in Bahrain next week | Formula 1®

Some people feel that the 39 year old has “had his day”. You may well have said the same thing when Michael Schumacher returned to the sport in 2010 after four years away. The seven time world champion secured a drive at Mercedes, bringing him out of retirement. Many questioned his motives for doing so, and some could not contain their excitement at the thought of the German turning a wheel in an F1 car again. His return was underwhelming, disappointing and some might have said embarrassing, ruining the legacy that he had worked so hard for at Ferrari. The truth is, he may not have returned to win races and championships. He may have returned to help develop the car and the team, but the fans watching see things from a different perspective.

Will Alonso tarnish his legacy?

Many believe so. He is at a disadvantage already given the fact that he has not been driving an F1 car in two years. Two years doesn’t seem like a long time but the sport evolves very quickly. He will have lots to learn. He will need to get used to a whole different way of working, a different engineer, and less mileage in the car with winter testing reduced from six days to three. He is also returning to a midfield team, and with the regulation changes just around the corner, it is a risk. He will be wanting to push for podiums and wins, but that will not come straight away. Alpine F1 need to have a competitive car under them, or it will damage Alonso’s reputation.

Reasons to get excited for 2021

But why return now? A few years ago, Alonso said he would return to F1 if the right seat became available. It was clear then he was looking for a drive at a top team. But the top teams won’t touch him now. They have their own junior programmes, with George Russell ear marked at Mercedes and Mick Schumacher looking like the option for Ferrari when Carlos Sainz is out of contract. Red Bull are focusing their efforts on getting Max Verstappen a world title, so Alonso has never been on their radar. They want young blood. Now though, the regulation changes coming into play look very attractive to the Spaniard. So even taking a seat at a midfield team could prove beneficial as the aim of the rule changes is to bring the field closer together and more competitive.

“Yes, When I put on the table everything I could do next year, F1 seemed the most attractive,” said Alonso, in an interview last year. “The idea of returning in 2021 was always there because the rules changed.”

“I did know that if I returned it would be in 2021, because in 2019 and 2020 with the same cars the idea would not attract me. With the change in rules, the idea might appeal to me.”

He has also had some time out to explore other forms of racing such as the Dakar Rally. He was also part of the winning Toyota team at Le Mans and is still chasing the elusive “triple crown”. He seemed like a lost man, not knowing what he now wanted to do, a bit like a mid life crisis of sorts. But seeing how F1 have handled their season in light of the pandemic may have also encouraged him to return.

“And also, to be totally honest, the other categories did not give me the security that the F1 could have with the pandemic. The WEC is a bit weakened by the sponsors, races canceled… And the other categories will suffer more, as always, the categories with fewer resources, the weakest, suffer more.”  said the former McLaren driver.

Seeing that the 2021 season would now be used as “preparation” for the big rule changes in 2022, Alonso feels he is ready to make a big return to the sport, quoted as saying he feels “younger and sharper”. After controversially appearing in the Young Driver Test at Abu Dhabi last season, and pulling in the fastest lap, it is clear he is taking this seriously.

Coming back to the team he won his world championships with is the fairy tale. Because of that, we want to see him do well, but the risk of us remembering him as an old has been is too great.

 

 

Image Credit: formulaone.com

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