Can Fernando Alonso roll back the years at the wheel for Renault?

Motor Racing – Renault F1 Team Film Day –  Barcelona, Spain

By Thomas Spink | Given the dominance of Mercedes and the relative fallibility of Renault, it would be hugely unlikely if Fernando Alonso claims a third Formula One world title anytime soon.

The Spaniard will return to the scene of his best days in the sport with Renault in 2021, and the 39-year-old is realistic but positive about his chances back in the hotseat.

It’s not as if Alonso has stepped away from motorsport altogether in his time away. Since the end of his final season with McLaren, Alonso has twice won the Le Mans 24 hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship, while also competing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the IndyCar Series and the Dakar Rally, and having tested with Renault in 2020 he should be able to hit the ground running.

He will have some sizeable shoes to fill as well. Daniel Ricciardo has impressed for the French outfit in his time as lead driver there and it came as something of a surprise when the Australian announced he was throwing in his lot with McLaren.

Fans of Formula One history will know that Alonso has an elite-level drive in him, but he needs the tools to prosper – his stints at McLaren and Ferrari showed that he needs a top level car in order to challenge for honours.

Can Renault provide that? Take a look at the outright latest F1 odds for 2020 and every time a Grand Prix comes along you will see a common theme – Lewis Hamilton is a red-hot favourite, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is next up and you’ll get a price on Max Verstappen, but then Ricciardo is as long as 80/1 to take the chequered flag – that tells you all you need to know about where the French outfit are right now.

Upping Their Game

There are two big questions that need to be answered prior to any examination of what may follow when Alonso re-joins Renault. One, will his time away from the coalface of F1 hinder the Spaniard’s hopes of recapturing his glory days of 2005-06, and two can Renault ever be anything more than the ‘best of the rest’ in the Constructors’ Championship?

We won’t know about the latter for a while, and it may even take the rule changes of 2022 before any team can lay a glove on Mercedes and, to a lesser extent, Red Bull.

But as for the former, it seems as if Alonso is not short of motivation, although he admits there will be a period of reconnection to the rigours of life as a Formula One driver. “When you go out of the sport for two years and then you drive a Formula 1 car again, everything surprises you like the first time. I need those laps now,” he told Sky Sports in an exclusive interview. “The simulator is good until a certain point, but then you need the physical effort of the car, the G-forces, the training of the neck. I need as many laps as possible.”

The Spaniard will get those in abundance ahead of the new campaign, and he is confident enough – ‘honestly, I expect to be straight up to speed’ – that he can compete with Hamilton and co. from the off.

Only time will tell on that, but one thing that is for sure is that Alonso has the class to complete the most remarkable comeback.

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