At the end of the 2018 Formula 1 season, Fernando Alonso called time on his F1 career.
For some, it was a huge shock, while others felt it was a massive burden being lifted off their shoulders. Why would they feel that way? Because Alonso is a polarizing figure in F1. Wherever he goes, whichever team he joins, Alonso always manages to rub people up the wrong way.
In 2010, when he joined Ferrari, it was believed that the two entities would rekindle the championship days of just a few years prior. But after five years, there were no fruits to show for their labour. In 2015 he joined McLaren, but it was an even poorer career decision that left him frustrated. It then led to his exit in 2018.
Now, however, it is being rumoured that Alonso could make his way back to F1 as early as 2021. With which team? Renault - the very team that powered him to two championships in 2005 and 2006.
Do you think Alonso and Renault will be a good fit for 2021, and why? Please email us.
Fernando Alonso. Image: Boris Horvat / AFP
What gave rise to Alonso's name being linked to the Renault team, was the extraordinary events that took place earlier in May 2020. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari announced that their paths would separate at the end of 2020. This after six seasons together and a failure to win the championships. According to the statements, it was a mutual decision, and the desire to work together was not there anymore.
In the following days, McLaren announced that Carlos Sainz Jr. would not be driving for the team in 2021, followed by Ferrari announcing that Sainz would partner Charles Leclerc as the team's drivers next year. Daniel Ricciardo and Renault then broke the news that their paths would also be separating come the end of 2020, with Ricciardo moving to McLaren to fill Sainz's vacant seat.
That leaves Renault with a bit of a headache because they need a strong driver to lead the team next year. And as it stands, the options are limited. Vettel will not move to Renault, given their struggling performances. Lewis Hamilton, who is also out of contract at the end of the year, will renew with Mercedes. Ultimately, only two names remain: Nico Hulkenberg (who Renault parted ways with at the end of 2019) and Alonso.
Fernando Alonso. Image: AFP / Clive Mason
Does Alonso make sense?
Between Alonso and Hulkenberg, Alonso is the more challenging racer. A driver who will go for the win, regardless of his car's performance. He will take chances and give his all to secure a strong finishing position. Hulkenberg will too, but he does not have the edge that Alonso has.
But as mentioned, Alonso has a way of burning bridges, a way of crumbling relationships around him. While at Ferrari, he famously said that he'd have been winning races if he was driving Hamilton's Mercedes. At McLaren, he compared the car's performance to that of a Formula 2 car – the feeder series to F1.
If Alonso is not happy, he will make his feelings known, regardless of the impact it might have on the team.
And Renault is not in the strongest position. They will not make the podium in 2021 unless something miraculous happens. Will Alonso be patient with the team? Can he wait until 2022, for the earliest, to challenge for podiums and race wins – if he and the team are that lucky? Can Renault deal with the frustration and conflict that follows Alonso wherever he goes?
The Renault team is not the same one as in 2005/6. It's a different space with different people. The way of doing things is different. If Alonso and Renault do decide to take up the challenge next year, we can only hope that 'mutual understanding' will ensure smooth sailing for both sides.Fernando Alonso. Image: Charles Coates / Getty Images