Today it is official. Renault Sport Racing Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul announced that Fernando Alonso will be driving for them once again in 2021.
Like the great Michael Jordan, Fernando Alonso is returning to his sport after what will be a three year motorsport sabbatical. He left Formula 1 in 2018 and while he made it seem like it would be for good, I think many of us knew better.
Even Sebastian Vettel called it in his “Goodbye” video to Alonso to which he ended with “see you when you get back”. How ironic that when Fernando returns to F1 with Renault in 2021, there is a good chance Vettel might be retiring from the sport himself since he will no longer be with Ferrari as Carlos Saniz is taking his place.
Fernando won back-to-back championships with Renault in ’05 and ’06 respectively but a lot has changed with the manufacturer since then. In recent years they’ve struggled as a mid-pack team, had issues as an engine supplier, and have had trouble keeping drivers in their ranks.
The team has just lost Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren (hence the seat that Fernando will be occupying), and there have been rumors of Renault’s financial troubles due to COVID-19 being so severe that they might shut down their F1 team all together.
So, is this move to bring Fernando Alonso back into the Renault stable one last Hail Mary on behalf of Abiteboul to prove to Renault that their F1 team is worth keeping? I suppose so if you want to look at things through a dramatic lens.
For those prefer a less emotional theory, in Fernando’s video announcing his return he cites his reason for leaving F1 in the first place as wanting to take on other challenges. Which he definitely did. Alonso took on endurance races all over the world like Daytona, Sebring, Spa, and LeMans. He famously took a shot at the Indy 500 and even ran the Dakar rally.
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) July 8, 2020
After taking on all those challenges he wants to come back to F1. It doesn’t seem all that unreasonable honestly. Though I still slightly prefer the more dramatic “last-ditch effort” angle more.
Furthermore he has a strong emotional connection to the team “Renault is my family, my fondest memories in Formula One with my two World Championship titles” Fernando said in an official statement.
Either way I’m sure there are many fans all over (including me) who are glad to see him back in the sport. Physically, I think he is more than capable of being competitive but can Renault Sport Racing give him a competitive car? That’s another story.
Perhaps, Fernando’s return will convince Renault to give Cyril additional resources to help get the team back into championship fighting shape? Who knows at this point; but I’m very curious to see how it plays out.
The sub-plot in this story is what this all means for Sebastian Vettel. He is out at Ferrari (seemingly with no warning according to him), Daniel Ricciardo took Saniz’ vacated seat at McLaren, Alonso is back at Renault, and Mercedes seems to be content keeping the same Hamilton/Bottas driver line up going into 2021.
If Vettel decides to stay in F1 where could he go? With my speculation hat on, I could see a back marker team like Williams or Alfa Romeo Racing booting a driver to make way for a 4-time champion like Sebastian Vettel.
Depending on his 2020 results, Williams could put their new driver Nicolas Latifi on reserve duty to make way for Vettel. Or Alfa Romeo Racing could put Kimi Raikkonen out to pasture and replace him with the younger Vettel. I only speculate that because I don’t see the Italian team dropping Antonio Giovinazzi, the only Italian driver on the F1 grid, from their ranks.
I think there is also an outside chance that Haas F1 may be willing to bump one of their drivers in favor for Vettel. As much as we root for them, neither Romain Grosjean nor Kevin Magnussen have had stellar results recently. The addition of a driver of Vettel’s caliber to Haas may just be the missing piece they need to become a stronger contender and maybe even challenge the likes of McLaren.
Obviously none of us really knows what the future holds especially in these crazy times. One thing’s for sure, the end of the 2020 season is likely to be the silliest of silly seasons ever.