Perhaps one of the most anticipated topics for 2021 is Alonso’s F1 return. Alonso’s career in Formula 1 has been peppered with the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows. 

Upon entering Formula 1 with Italian backmarker team Minardi in 2001, his talent was immediately jumped on by Renault team boss Flavio Briatore, who signed him to a test role for 2002 before full-time driver duties in 2003. A few short years later and Alonso was double world champion.

Fernando Alonso’s team changed from Renault to McLaren as he thought his chances for a third championship were better with the team from Woking. However, he ran into a young rookie named Lewis Hamilton and the season-long battle between the two allowed Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen to pip them both for the Driver’s Championship at the final race. The super tense relationship between Lewis and Fernando was toxic to the point where he decided to go back to Renault after only a single season at McLaren.

2008 and 2009 proved uncompetitive at Renault, though it was clear Alonso was wringing the neck of the car to achieve the points he snatched. At long last, however, the opportunity came knocking to drive for Ferrari — many drivers’ ultimate dream. 

Alonso’s years at Ferrari, however, would become nightmares due to another young upstart — Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull Racing — where the combination would win Drivers and Constructors titles back to back for four years. Were it not for Red Bull, Alonso would be a four-time champion as the Ferraris in 2012 and 2013 were fantastic cars.

Throwing in the towel at Ferrari, he moved back to McLaren based on the hope that the combination of McLaren and Honda would win titles again. Unfortunately, with three years powered by Honda and horrendous reliability, again Alonso was suffering in a poor car. Alonso’s driving abilities, however, were on full display at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Having suffered massive damage that any other driver would have retired the car for, he rolled into the pit lane with only two functional wheels, a destroyed front wing, massive floor damage, and was dead last. He was able to drive an undriveable car to the checkered flag. 2018 would be his last season in Formula 1 (until Alonso’s F1 return in 2021).

In the interim, Alonso has driven a wide variety of cars. He has competed in the Dakar rally - a grueling long distance desert race - Indy Cars at the Indianapolis 500, and in the World Endurance Championship winning the Driver’s and Constructors championship in 2018 along with Le Mans back to back in 2018 and 2019.

Through various combinations of bad timing and bad luck, Alonso’s career hasn’t flown as high as it should have and most consider him one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. He can wring time out of a car that it should not have. He grabs it by the scruff of its neck and wills it to go faster, punching above the car’s weight. For this reason I am very excited to see Alonso’s F1 return.

For one, Fernando Alonso’s team, where he won his two championships, welcomed him back. Sure, the team has changed, but it’s great to see the reunification. Second, Renault (now branded Alpine) is on an upswing in performance momentum. The later half of 2020 showed much improved performance in the car and with 2021 being a minor evolution of the regulations before 2022’s massive shake up, I think Alonso has a really good chance to score some massive points. Will he be fighting for the championship? No, but don’t be surprised to see him battle with cars the Renault has no right to battle with which sees Alonso on the podium a few times.

About the Author:

Jared Nichols has been a Formula 1 fan for a decade and a car nut his entire life. He is the host of the F1 Explained podcast, where he and special guests make Formula 1 accessible to all. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

April 27, 2021 — Jared Nichols

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