Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso is re-joining the grid next year after two seasons away, taking up the Alpine F1 Team seat vacated by Daniel Ricciardo at the end of this season. The Spaniard is wasting no time getting back into the swing of things, as he has already run a slew of test sessions with the Renault team (which will be renamed Alpine next year) in their 2018 car, as well as 1,000 kilometers of “filming day” allowance in the current car. Because of this lack of experience with the current spec, the team was recently given clearance to run Fred in the young driver test at the Abu Dhabi circuit later this month on the Tuesday following the season-ending Grand Prix.
Alonso left his role in the McLaren team at the end of the 2018 season and has spent that time pretty much just being a lazy bum. All he’s done since then is win the Daytona 24, win Le Mans twice, score an FIA WEC World Championship victory, participate in (and finish) his first Dakar rally, and make two efforts at the Indianapolis 500. Obviously he’s been racing a hell of a lot since leaving F1, but there’s nothing quite like an F1 car to prepare you to drive an F1 car. That’s why he and the team need as much testing time as possible to get back up to speed.
When Alonso starts the 2021 season, it will mark twenty years since his first race with the Minardi team. Technically he’ll be re-joining the sport with a team that he’s raced with on three separate occasions, as the Enstone-based Renault has hired Alonso initially from 2001 as a test driver through his two World Championship seasons in 2005 and 2006. He left for one ahem tumultuous season at McLaren before returning in 2008 and 2009. After five seasons with Ferrari and three more with McLaren, plus two on sabbatical driving whatever he damn well pleases, Alonso is back with the French manufacturer.
The post-Abu Dhabi test was originally planned to be a run-in with the new 18-inch wheel and tire package from Pirelli, but because that rule change has been pushed back to the 2022 season, the test was swapped out for a new young driver event. Each team is allowed up to two cars to test with their young driver academy participants.
The sporting regulations specifically state that the test is “an optional one-day test, for the sole purpose of providing young drivers with the opportunity to test a current Formula 1 car ,” and goes on to say that nobody with more than two Grands Prix of experience would be allowed to participate. Clearly Alonso is not either of those things.
Despite pushback from McLaren, Racing Point, and Ferrari, the FIA has decided that Alonso and Renault/Alpine would be allowed special dispensation to take part. Allegedly the decision came down from on high, as Jean Todt himself made the choice.
Interestingly, Fernando will also be driving his old 2005 Renault R25 chassis during the Abu Dhabi weekend, which won the teams and drivers championship that year. Obviously this doesn’t gain him or the team anything in terms of setup data for the 2021 car, but it’s a nice warm up for the test the following week, and it’s a nice goodbye to the Renault name, and a nice bridge for the gap between Fernando’s old life and his new one in the sport.
And in case anyone wants to ask, yes, I’m still miffed that Alpine didn’t ditch Esteban Ocon in favor of Sergio Perez. A Perez/Alonso combo would have been just *chef’s kiss* perfection. Anyway, welcome back Fernando. I was a fan for his first twenty years in the sport, I suppose I’ll continue to root for him as he enters a third decade in F1.