Fernando Alonso: Two-time F1 champion will be 'strong' on return

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso took part in the Dakar Rally last year and again participated in the Indianapolis 500

Fernando Alonso will be as strong as ever when he returns to Formula 1 this season, according to the two-time champion's team-mate Esteban Ocon.

Alonso, back after two years racing in other categories, was excused from Tuesday's launch of his Alpine team's 2021 car due to travel restrictions.

Ocon said he had been impressed by Alonso's performance when he drove the 2020 Renault at the end of last year.

"He doesn't look like a 39-year-old and he doesn't drive like one," Ocon said.

"He will be ready and he will be performing at the top level. No doubt he will be strong, but I will do my best against him."

Alpine is the new name for the Renault team, whose 2020 car Alonso drove in the post-season 'young driver' test at Abu Dhabi in December, two days after the final race of the season at the same track.

By the end of his day's running, Alonso had set a fractionally faster lap time than the best achieved by Ocon and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the Grand Prix.

Ocon, who said he was looking forward to the challenge of taking on his new team-mate, said Alonso's performance was "quite impressive for a comeback", adding: "Definitely he will be at the level [he was before he left F1]."

As a double world champion, winner of 32 Grands Prix, and regarded as one of the greatest racing drivers in history, Alonso's comeback to F1 is one of the most anticipated aspects of the new season, which starts in Bahrain at the end of this month.

Alpine said that after hitting issues with quarantine restrictions between Alonso's home in Switzerland and the UK, they decided to excuse him from his media commitments at the launch so he could concentrate on catching up with his training and continuing his recovery from breaking his upper jaw in a cycling accident last month.

The Spaniard said in a Q&A released by he team for the car launch: "To be 100% up to speed, it can take at least the first couple of races, but it is the same for everybody.

"I also had a small setback with a bike accident a few weeks ago, but luckily the preparation and my fitness will not be impacted and I'm ready to go."

Alpine announced that they have recruited Russian Daniil Kvyat, who has seven years of experience with Red Bull's F1 teams, as reserve this season.

What about the car and team?

Renault finished fifth in the championship last season, but have hopes of improving this year in their new guise as Alpine, the French car company's sporting brand.

The Alpine car is an updated version of last year's model, as a result of restrictions on the amount of development that can be done over the winter, imposed by F1 on cost-saving grounds in the pandemic.

Its livery is predominantly in blue, in a shade that has become synonymous with the Alpine brand, famous for its lightweight sportscars. It also features white and red, to reflect the French and British national flags and the team's bases in Viry-Chatillon near Paris and Enstone in Oxfordshire.

The team is under new leadership this year, following the departure of former Renault Sport managing director Cyril Abiteboul.

The team have recruited Italian Davide Brivio, the former boss of the Suzuki MotoGP team, as racing director, a role similar to team principal.

Alpine chief executive officer Laurent Rossi said Brivio and Marcin Budkowski, who remains in overall technical leadership of chassis and engine as executive director, "will work in tandem to get the best out of the car".

Rossi is in charge of the whole Alpine company but said that he expected the majority of his time to be spent on the F1 team.

In turn, Rossi reports to Renault chief executive officer Luca de Meo.

The ambition is to improve performance over 2021, when the team scored a total of three podiums, ahead of a hoped-for substantial step forward when F1 introduces new regulations aimed at closing up the field and creating better racing in 2022.

"We know 2021 will be difficult," Renault chief executive officer De Meo said. "We will fight to make it a success."

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