“I needed that time out and now I’m ready to give the maximum.”
Formula 1 comebacks don’t always go to plan, but if anyone is going to hit the ground running after two years away, at the age of 39, it’s Fernando Alonso. And he’s feeling great about 2021.
- Emilia-Romagna GP Driver Ratings
The two-time world champion, reintegrating with Renault ahead of rejoining the team full-time next season, made his return to the paddock at the Emilia-Romagna GP and spoke exclusively to Sky Sports F1’s Simon Lazenby.
As well as tipping his star for the sport’s future, here’s what Alonso – one of the most complete F1 drivers of all-time – had to say:
Alonso spoke to other teams, but Renault project ‘very appealing’
Ever since leaving McLaren at the end of 2018, Alonso – who has kept himself busy, and sharp, by racing in (just to name a few) the World Endurance Championship, Le Mans 24 Hours, Indianapolis 500 and the Dakar Rally – has been frequently linked with a return to F1, and not just with Renault.
“I talked to a few teams but Renault was always the preferred choice,” said the Spaniard.
Talks between Renault and Alonso ramped up after Daniel Ricciardo’s surprise confirmation, back in May, that he would be leaving for McLaren, before a reunion between the French team and the driver who claimed their last two Drivers’ Championships in 2005 and 2006 was announced in July.
With Renault fifth in last year’s constructors’ standings, they didn’t appear to have what Alonso has always stressed would be key for him making an F1 comeback – a winning package – but he insisted to Simon that, with new rules on the way in 2022, they are the perfect fit.
“[They were the preferred choice] for two reasons,” he continued. “One, in terms of expectations and building something from the midfield to the top, it was very attractive, very appealing. And secondly because I know everyone in this team. I know the passion for racing. It’s the third time I come here and I knew I would feel at home here.”
Renault are leading the midfield this season, currently third with four races to go, so the signs for Alonso – a man who has famously not had luck on his side with career decisions in the past – are promising. They will be known as Alpine next season and, presumably, a convenient return to a blue livery.
Renault car ‘amazing’ but he ‘needs laps’
Alonso stepped up his preparations for 2021 with a filming day in Barcelona last month, completing 21 laps in the team’s current car.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was quite an experience.”
But he also knows he needs more track time, adding: “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.
“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.”
First few races could be a ‘struggle’… but will they be?
That’s not to say Alonso expects to be rusty when he does get started officially next year – even though he acknowledges that it could be a ‘struggle’.
“Honestly, I expect to be straight up to speed,” stated Alonso. “But I’m aware of the challenge that maybe I face in the first couple of races. Not only on pure speed, but also on procedures, steering wheel commands, things that are new for me and could take some time. I’m aware that I could struggle a little bit.
“But I want to think that it will not happen.”
‘Stopwatch will decide when I stop, not third title’
Alonso has signed an initial two-year contract with Renault, meaning he is set to race until at least the age of 41. But, when asked if he will keep racing until he secures what feels like a long-overdue third title, he said his competitiveness will be the deciding factor, not championships.
“I don’t think I will target a certain result before I stop,” he told Lazenby. “I think in motorsport, the stopwatch tells you when it is time to stop, not the age. I hope the stopwatch is on my side in the next coming years.”
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