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What Alonso’s return could mean for F1

2019-06-23 12:09

Charlen Raymond

Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic

At the end of the 2018 Formula 1 season, two-time champion Fernando Alonso called time on his career.

The sport lost of one of its greatest talents though gained new talent in the form of a flurry of new, young drivers. So in a way Alonso’s departure opened the door for the newer drivers to stake their claim.

Alonso’s former team, McLaren, had an entirely new driver pairing for 2019 in the form of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, and did the team show an improved performance over last season. That performance, in part, thanks to a new engine deal with Renault. And though the team is trying to find their feet and putting in an effort to show stable performances, Alonso’s presence and experience is missed.

Not just within the team but the entire paddock.

But Alonso came out and said that a return to F1 in 2020 is not impossible, but that it would have to be with a team that can win championships. He is not prepared to start from scratch.

Should Alonso return in 2020, he has two realistic options - Mercedes and Ferrari.

Fernando Alonso press conference

         Image: Clive Mason / Getty Images & AFP

The Mercedes option

In 2007 Alonso joined McLaren and was partnered with then-rookie, Lewis Hamilton. The team famously lost both championships to Ferrari that year and the relationship between Alonso, Hamilton and team boss Ron Dennis came to an angry end. Alonso returned to Renault for the next few seasons but his relationship with Hamilton took a real beating.

It was only post-2010 that the two managed to find common grounds and was there a great amount of mutual respect between the two when Alonso retired. In 2016, when Nico Rosberg announced his retirement and a seat opened up at Mercedes to partner Hamilton, Alonso was a viable replacement. But his contractual agreement to McLaren and failure to secure details with Mercedes meant that Alonso could not join the team. If he had, he would’ve partnered Hamilton for the second time in his career.

READ: Fernando Alonso set for 2020 F1 return?

Alonso might still get a chance to join Mercedes next year, seeing that Bottas’ contract is only until then end of this year. But will Mercedes take in Alonso? 

It’s a bit unlikely, given that Bottas is playing the support role to Hamilton. Alonso wants to win, so too does Hamilton. If Bottas does get the boot, reserve driver Esteban Ocon might be called up for the race seat. So realistically, it’s between Bottas and Ocon for the 2019 race seat at Mercedes. Alonso’s arrival to a team that’s built around Hamilton will set the fox loose in the chicken coop and could this team fall apart in spectacular fashion; much like McLaren did in 2007. Alonso would want preference, but it’s unlikely that Hamilton will take it lying down.

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         Alonso and Hamilton (left) at the 2018 Abu Dhabi GP. Image: Supplied

The Ferrari option

This is perhaps the more realistic option, but even it depends on a number of factors before it could come to fruition. Alonso could return to the Red next year, the team he left at the end of 2014, but for that to happen Sebastian Vettel would have to retire at the end of 2019. Vettel still has 18 months left on his contract and it’s unlikely that Alonso will return to F1 in 2021; given that he’ll turn 39 in 2021.

Vettel has had a lacklustre season so far and after the Canadian GP he came out saying that F1 is no longer the sport he fell in love with. Vettel, like Alonso and Hamilton, is in F1 to win races and championship, but his last championship came in 2013 and until now he has failed to secure a title since. Ferrari was seen as Vettel’s chance to add another championship to his name, but the partnership failed to yield anything (yet). Ferrari could decide to buy Vettel out of his contract at the end of 2019, which will then open the door for Alonso to join the team. But this could prove to be a costly exercise - both for team morale and financially.

READ: F1 controversy - Hamilton just as much to blame for Vettel’s penalty?

Vettel’s current team mate, Charles Leclerc, is the young driver Ferrari invested in and is it unlikely that the team will oust him. A Vettel-Alonso partnering does make for good reading, but both drivers are over thirty and do not have many competitive years left. If Vettel does decide to leave, Ferrari still has the option to bring in Mick Schumacher to partner Leclerc next year. Schumacher will be cheaper and hungrier than Alonso, and both him and Leclerc will feel that they have something to prove in their young careers. 

Leclerc will effectively be team leader should Vettel call time, but he and Schumacher will have equal treatment. Alonso’s return to the team, should it happen, could have the same results as Alonso and Hamilton’s partnership in 2007 and Leclerc will not pull to the side for Alonso to pass him (ala Alonso and Felipe Massa, Germany 2010).

It will undoubtedly add to the F1 spectacle if Alonso returns to F1 in a championship winning car next year, but his return could be met with a number of challenges before it becomes reality.

         Alonso during his Ferrari days in 2014. Image: AFP/ Toshifumi Kitamura

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