During his first stint with the team, the Spaniard established himself as one of Formula One’s best-ever drivers, as he clinched back-to-back Drivers’ World Championships in 2005 and 2006. Returning to Renault is familiar to Alonso, who left McLaren to re-join the French constructor in 2008. This time around, however, things will be different. From 2021, Renault will be rebranded as Alpine, and it will represent the start of a new chapter. So, will this reunion be a perfect match?
Signs of a Positive Future
Ahead of the 2021 season, Alonso’s return to F1 is part of many line-up changes. With Carlos Sainz heading to Ferrari to replace the outgoing Sebastian Vettel – who is joining Aston Martin – Daniel Ricciardo opted to leave Renault for McLaren. In turn, that opened the door for Alonso to make his highly-anticipated return.
Although the French team finished fifth in the constructors’ table, their place in the standings doesn’t tell the whole story. Along with beating a below-par Ferrari by 50 points, Renault recorded 181 points, as per the official F1 website. To showcase the significance of this, the tally was their highest since 2013. In that year, they registered 315 with both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean at the wheel.
On their route to a more-than-admirable points tally, Cyril Abiteboul’s team were on the podium on three separate occasions. Ricciardo - who finished fifth in the drivers’ standings – secured a third-place finish at both the Eifel and Emilia Romagna races, while Esteban Ocon finished second at Sakhir.
A Leadership Character That Has Long Been Missing
While Alpine - as they will soon be known - will be disappointed to have lost Ricciardo, his exit sparked the return of a two-time champion. Interestingly, while the Spaniard possesses an undeniable desire to win, he’s also a realist. According to Abiteboul, during initial conversations with Alonso, the 39-year-old made it clear that his focus was on attacking in 2022.
However, after promising results throughout the 2020 season, it’s believed that the former champion is now focusing on 2021. Alonso’s experience is undoubtedly something that will serve Alpine well ahead of the upcoming regulation changes. With his expertise, the team could find themselves in with a chance of consistent podiums in the coming years.
While Alpine will reap the rewards of having Alonso on board, he’ll also be grateful to have the foundations to launch an assault for his third championship and equal the likes of Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda. Despite having a break from open-wheel racing, the Spaniard appears more-than-ready to compete in 2021. At the young driver test at Abu Dhabi, the 39-year-old set a lap time of 1’33.333, which was faster than both Ocon and Ricciardo managed in qualifying.
Despite Alonso’s promising early pace, Alpine themselves will be realistic about what 2021 will have in store. That said, it’s a testament to their recent progress that they’re priced at 66/1 in F1 betting to win the Constructors' Championship next year.
Is the Timing Perfect?
As of yet, nobody knows what the 2022 regulation changes will mean for the competitiveness of F1. However, the expectation is that racing will be closer up and down the grid. If the alterations work in Alpine’s favour, then Alonso certainly possesses the race craft to win his third Drivers’ World Championship.