If I ask you to name one of the best champions and all round drivers in the last fifteen years or so, you would be hard pressed not to say Fernando Alonso, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest drivers in the modern era. Making a name for himself in the mid 2000's becoming the first man to de-throne the mighty Michael Schumacher en-route to two world championships with Renault in 2005 and 2006, Alonso is now seeking a possible return to F1 for the new regulations in 2021 after his “retirement” from the sport, but one has to raise the topic, can he risk his reputation and legacy for an inevitably ill-fated return to F1?
Looking at Fernando's final few seasons in F1 and taking into account what he has been accomplishing asides from F1, one would wonder why he is even considering a return to the sport, seeing as his last seasons in McLaren weren't particularly successful. Fernando was, after all one of the main contributors to the McLaren/Honda fall out, being one to publicly rant about the engine manufacturer's poor performances and reliability both to the media and over team radio. However, that dream of title numero trois has always been on the forefront of his mind. Aside from the two from his Renault triumphs, he could easily had been a three or even four time champion had his most competitive years at Ferrari went just slightly different.
Despite not qualifying for last year's race, Alonso impressed in his Indy 500 debut in 2017. (© McLaren.)
Outside of F1, Fernando also has been accomplishing some pretty awesome things. In 2017, he almost won the coveted Indianapolis 500 in his first attempt when until his engine failed with only 20 laps to go. He has also been part of the winning Toyota team at Le Mans the last two years running as well as a World Endurance champion with the team, and in the new year he will be looking ahead to his debut in the brutal Dakar Rally. With so much going on for him at the moment, why is he deciding towards a return to a sport that has seemingly left him behind?
Fernando did mention in various interviews during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend that he is strongly thinking about a return to Formula 1 in 2021 if the right seat becomes available. Of course, everyone can interpret interviews and the meaning behind them differently, but what I took this to be is that he will only return to a top winning team if they can give him the chance of a serious championship shot, a la Mercedes or Ferrari. Sure, with so many drivers out of contract for the end of 2020, it could become a possibility, but why would a team realistically pick a driver who is out of the sport for what will be two years and close to forty by then over a young rookie, of which those have shown to be more than able in recent years, or an already seasoned driver? Sure Sauber (Alfa Romeo) took Kimi Raikkonen for this season, but he was jumping out of one of his best years in Ferrari into what was initially a team looking for experience and improvement, not a championship title.
Another thing Fernando must remember that Formula 1 changes dramatically in just a few years, and 2021 will be no different. One example? Michael Schumacher's return with Mercedes in 2010. Sure, he is the most successful driver in F1 with 91 wins and 7 titles, and although he was improving in form from 2010 until his second retirement in 2012, he struggled in a sport that, in just four years, changed drastically from what he once dominated. Things like DRS, KERS, the new Pirelli tires and other things made the cars and the sport itself very different to his Ferrari days, and a return that is definitely remembered, but not in a positive way like the rest of his F1 career.
I fear a 2021 return will do the same for Fernando. As we know, the regulations will drastically change the cars and how they drive. People like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, given they continue into the 2021 regulations will not struggle as much as Fernando for example, as they will be ready and slowly adopting into the new regulations. Fernando however, out of full time F1 competition should he return, would be doubtfully be up to the potential of current drivers.
Teams, somewhat sadly in recent years, have been more drawn away from signing Fernando as opposed to being attracted to him for fear of how he works within a team. Obviously, from various sources such as ex-teammates and the like, Fernando is one that really likes to rule the roost within a team, and is not shy about showing his displeasure if things don't go his way as we all know by now. It can definitely be said that McLaren itself seems like a much happier place with it's current line up of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, as well being a whole lot more competitive since Fernando's departure, almost to the point that Fernando now looks sort of out of place in any photos he is currently included with the team, such as one's from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix almost a fortnight ago
Fernando has taken very well to endurance racing, being part of the winning Toyota team twice in the last two years. (© Arnaud Cornilleau (ACO).)
The majority of teams also have their own “young driver programmes” nowadays in Formula 1, and as youngsters such as Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon have proven this year, they are more than ready to jump into the deep end and fight from the word go. Many teams will be looking to adopt their own stars into the team for a secure future post-2020, and I just can't see the viability in taking Fernando on in place of one of these rookies, even more so given the absolutely sensational wealth of talent coming up through the ranks at the moment. There is talks of some new teams joining the grid in 2021 and beyond and if this turns out to be the case, they may look to someone such as Fernando for experience in their opening years. As for a top team, I don't think so, El Matador...
2021 will be a very different place in Formula 1, and I am unconvinced it will be one that will wait for Fernando. Especially with all he has been doing and been successful at, a return to F1 isn't really necessary, and one I feel will only tarnish the legacy of success he was privileged to leave behind. Don't come back Fernando, I'm doing you a favour. You can repay me in beer. Lots of beer. Yum.