I am very happy Fernando Alonso is back and it’s great for Formula 1. Yes for F1.
Love him or not, he is one of the great characters of our sport and his return to real action yesterday during testing in Bahrain suggests a mighty Version 2.0 of the Spaniard.
Fernando did himself the world of good to take a walk away from F1 for two years. The facts are that he did far more laps in race cars than his F1 rivals during those two years in which he won Le Mans twice and the WEC title among his headline-grabbing experiences.
Therefore, it was no surprise that when the double F1 World Champion hit the track on Saturday he was in sparkling form right out of the box. Clipping every apex with no sign of rust that some suspect he may have.
He was ready, very ready for his return as he pounded around the Bahrain International Circuit in the Alpine, challenged by gusty winds and residue on track from the previous day’s dust storm.
At the end of the day, he had completed 127 error-free laps in tricky conditions which caught out none other than his former teammate Lewis Hamilton, who spun the Mercedes during the same session.
Perhaps even his massive experience gained racing in atrocious conditions with legendary aplomb – 2019 Daytona 24-Hours victory with Wayne Taylor Racing will go down as one of the sport’s greatest drives.
Whatever the case we have a sharp and fit Fernando who is clearly going about the second chapter of his career intent on proving as a 39-year-old he has a lot more to offer, beyond his driving which he insists is at the best level ever.
A massive statement, considering that at the turn of this century he was the new kid on the block as he and Renault under Flavio Briatore dismantled the might of Michael Schumacher by ending Ferrari’s glory run by claiming the title in 2005.
The combo – which happens to be the same F1 operation he is at now – then did it again in 2006 to put an end to Schumi’s career in the top flight. The first chapter that is.
But thereafter the New King of F1 became the villain of the piece. Alonso was a controversy magnet.
Unsurprisingly he was central or not (depending on who you believe) to the sports’ biggest scandals:
- And of course, Spygate of 2007 which cost the Ron Dennis’ McLaren $100-million;
- Crashgate at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix cost his mentor Flavio’s career in the sport.
Fast Forward a decade and a half, the word from those close to Team Alonso is that the Spaniard is less temperamental, calmer, determined, polemics absent and a better driver than ever as a result.
A glimpse of that was evident during his full day in the Alpine A521 at Sakhir.
If the transformed French team, with one of the prettiest cars on the grid, can provide their drivers with a decent car, which early indications from Fernando himself suggest they have done: “The car did feel good today, but I think we still need to understand the characteristics of the new aero package a bit better.”
If that can be sustained, and Esteban Ocon plays ball, Les Bleus may well be a force in what looks to be a very tight midfield pack.
It is worth noting that Alonso’s fastest lap on day two at BIC was recorded in the morning on a set of the harder Pirelli C2 tyres, which at that point was only bettered by Daniel Ricciardo in the (medium-shod) Mercedes-powered McLaren which has looked mighty out the box.
Thereafter, in the afternoon, while his peers went for the relatively meaningless hot-lap stuff, Fernando kept to the programme by pounding out the laps for his team on the hard rubber. No need for showboating.
That might have been the Spaniard’s style in the past, but one senses Alonso-Rebooted is a more perfect version of a perfect driver if that can be. Disciplined, focussed and a man with a mission.
For these reasons alone his return to where he belongs is one of the best things to happen for F1, a sport constantly seeking to spice up the show will have it in dollops thanks to the Man from Oviedo.