Fernando Alonso has been confirmed as returning to the Renault outfit in which he won his two world championships. After a 2 year absence he will return to race for the French outfit for the third time in his career. The opinion to bring in the 38 year old has differed, and I’m on the fence.
Fernando Alonso is an elite racing driver. In whatever format he chooses to race in, you know he is going to show unbelievable pace. When he made his F1 debut in a terrible Minardi, he scored tremendous results to be picked up quickly by Renault. He then won back to back titles in 2005 and 2006. He had a brief stint in a McLaren and Renault again, before moving to Ferrari. Where he nearly won the title in 2010 losing by 4 points and 2012, losing by 3 points. He then moved to McLaren again, and constantly dragged a bad car to a good result on his pace alone. In 2017, he dipped his toes into Indycar, participating in the Indy 500. He again showed immense pace for a new driver on ovals, he led a good number of laps and was in contention to win, before retiring with engine problems. After his F1 career was over he won the famous Le Mans 24 hours, twice! As well as the 2018-19 WEC Championhip. In 2020, he had a foray in the Dakar Rally, in which he finished 13th, with no rallying experience, that’s undeniably an amazing result. Whatever discipline he enters, he will bring results… which is exactly what Renault need. With Ricciardo moving to Mclaren, there is a need for an experienced driver to push the team forward.
An experienced driver is quite the precedent for most F1 teams. Williams are the only team which their lead driver has only had 1 year in the championship. Ocon is not a rookie, but he is still young. Renault want to be fighting for podiums, and it is a lot for such a young driver to have to deal with if he had a rookie beside him. Fernando can help with this charge, and he will have a hand in developing the car, which it clearly needs. Ocon will relish this line up, it will make him a better driver because he is going to have a target every race.
Nevertheless, you can’t deny that brining in such an experienced pilot, has taken the seat from a promising young talent in the Renault Sport Academy. Guanyu Zhou was tipped to be next in line for a Renault seat exhibiting exceptional pace in his debut F2 season, and being favourite in his second attempt this year. The academy has produced talent before, notably Robert Kubica, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. But by bringing back Fernando, you deny the talent a chance a making the jump to F1. Renault don’t have a junior team they can fit them into before grooming them for the big team. Unless they can make a deal with another team, it’s either Renault, or nothing.
The last two years, a number of teams have taken a chance on a rookie: McLaren promoted Lando from their driver academy. Williams hired George Russell due to their affiliation with Mercedes. Alex Albon joined Toro Rosso, and Charles Leclerc was apart of Alfa Romeo before quickly joining Ferrari. Each of these drivers have done amazing: Charles is now a multiple time winner, Lando has a podium, Albon got promoted halfway through the season to the parent Red Bull team, and Russell is spearheading Williams’ growth. You would wonder why Renault wouldn’t put their trust in Zhou who seems like an immense talent when there is a trend in young talent exceeding expectations. Alonso has reportedly signed a 2 year contract, with Ocon signed until 2021. Although, you would expect Renault to extend his contract and make Ocon their Number 1 driver. A French driver in a French team makes sense. If they choose to resign Ocon on a long term deal, that would mean at least 2023 until they get a chance to promote a youth driver.
This is exactly why Jack Aitken chose to leave the Renault Sport Academy. On Chris Medland’s podcast, Jack spoke about leaving Renault’s programme, in which he said that they didn’t give the opportunities that others did, and knew that a seat wouldn’t be viable. Bear in mind that this was earlier in the year, even before Ricciardo had announced he was leaving. He knew Danny would leave, and as they had showed no interest in the academy before, knew he wouldn’t get a chance. He has since moved to the Williams Junior Programme, and will drive the Williams in FP1 in the Styrian GP, something he never did in his 4 years in the Renault Sport Academy, come to think of it, has any of their recent juniors had a chance?
I cannot deny that I am excited to see Alonso return. He is a great racer, with a great personality to join the current crop. I think in the end I’m not annoyed with Alonso returning, he has stated many times since he left that he wanted to return. I am more aggrieved that Renault will continue to overlook their junior programme, and fail to bring in their surging youth prospects. Should Zhou have been given the seat for 2021? I think he should’ve. But, if Renault are going to offer Alonso a seat, of course he is going to take it. However, if he starts moaning again, he can have no complaints. He knows he’s joining a team that more than likely isn’t going to be battling for podiums. His last few years at McLaren are well known for his quotes and memes, rather than his incredible driving abilities. Another 2 years in a slow Renault, again I fear his tenure will be remembered for giving out at every chance.