Morning all. My dog has diarrhea. This is unpleasant on two fronts. First, I have to get up two or three times a night to let him outside and do his thing, returning to bed with vivid images in my head and unpleasant smells in my nose. Second, as a result of the warped master-dog relationship in which the supposed subordinate really holds all the power, I have to clean up after him. Not even the most barbaric and vile slave owners of centuries past made their vassals stoop so low (as far as I am aware). When did we, humans, sign up for this?
Anyway, Boris has a really friendly face and fluffy coat so I’ll forgive him.
Onto sporting matters, and Formula 1 has once again been grabbing the headlines for a variety of reasons this week. To start with, the season-opening race in Austria on Sunday was an absolute cracker. There was action from lights-out right through until Valtteri Bottas took the chequered flag, with dramatic overtakes, collisions and penalties aplenty. I wrote last week about the need for someone to challenge Lewis Hamilton this year, singling out Bottas as the most likely candidate. It was encouraging to see the Finn make the most of a difficult weekend for his teammate and register the win.
A couple of days later, Ferrari then reacted to their poor performance at the Red Bull Ring by announcing that they would introduce some planned upgrades to the car in time for this weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc did brilliantly to stay out of trouble and steer his car home in second place, but his excellence masked what was a huge gap in straight-line speed compared to Mercedes and Red Bull. After trailing the front teams by as much as a second during qualifying, it will be fascinating to see whether the upgrades – originally expected to be ready for the subsequent race in Hungary – can help the Italian team bridge the gap.
But the big news came yesterday when it emerged that Fernando Alonso will be returning to Formula 1 from next year. The Spaniard, who turns 39 later this month, has reportedly signed a deal to drive for Renault in 2021, marking what would be his third stint with French manufacturer. The news is expected to be confirmed by driver and team later today.
My initial reaction was surprise. With Daniel Ricciardo leaving for McLaren next season, I knew that Renault was a driver short and given Alonso’s previous success with the team – they won back to back world championships together in 2005-06 – it was natural that he would be linked with the seat. But after his years of failure and frustration at the back of the grid with McLaren in the period preceding his initial exit from Formula 1 in 2018, I didn’t think we’d see Alonso back in the paddock unless he was guaranteed a shot at his long-coveted third world title. Renault finished a distant fifth in the constructors championship last year, with their best result a fourth-place showing in Monza for Ricciardo. Considering the team’s equally lacklustre performance last weekend – they picked up just three points – they can hardly be considered shoe-ins for the title in 2021.
But then I was met with a feeling of excitement. Alonso is without question one of the best drivers in the world, and one of the few true superstars of the sport. As well as his two championships, he has 32 wins, 97 podiums and 22 pole positions from 311 Grand Prix. Considering that he was in a mediocre car for many of those races – particularly during his difficult spell at McLaren but also in the latter stages of his time at Ferrari – that is a mighty record. He made a habit of dragging hidden performance out of below-par equipment, routinely brushing off the challenge his teammates in the process. In 2012, for example, he somehow managed to finish second in the championship – just three points behind Sebastian Vettel – despite his Ferrari regularly lagging over a second-per-lap behind the Red Bull. Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa, a fine driver in his own right, finished seventh that season.
Finally, there is also a sense of trepidation. For all his talent behind the wheel, Alonso has made a series of poor career choices. In 2014, fed up at his team’s failure to deliver him another title-winning car, he left Ferrari for struggling McLaren. Over the course of the next few years, Ferrari would return to the front of the grid while his new team gradually slipped further back. He then jumped the McLaren ship in 2018, only for the Woking-based group to have a sterling return to form the following year, finishing fourth in the championship. On paper, this latest move to Renault looks to be at best a gamble, and at worst a last desperate roll of the dice for a driver incapable of giving up on his dream of a third world title.
We will have to wait and see, and a lot can happen in a year in Formula 1. I really hope the move pays off because the sport will be more exciting with Alonso fighting for race wins again. With the new generation of drivers emerging, it would be fascinating to see how he matches up to the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and Norris – not to mention the auld enemy Hamilton – if armed with a vaguely competitive car. Looking at Renault’s recent performance it’s a big “if” but if anyone can do it, Alonso can.
Right, that’s all from me today. Have yourselves a grand old Wednesday and I’ll be back here in a couple of days.