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Formula 1

Alpine testing form suggests Alonso set for career crossroads

by Edd Straw
4 min read

When Fernando Alonso signed up to return to Formula 1 with what was then called Renault in mid-2020, but had been rebranded as Alpine by the time he started racing for the team last season, 2022 was always the key year.

The rules reset, combined with changes to the wider F1 financial landscape that could allow a works team that was historically underfunded compared to Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull to compete on a more level playing field, ensured there was at least hope that the team could provide Alonso with frontrunning machinery during his comeback.

There probably wasn’t even the necessity to convince Alonso that there was a high probability of this. It was 2021 or never for his return and returning to Enstone, where he had enjoyed two previous stints and won his two world championships, was the best available option. Realistically, it was that or nothing.

The first year went as well as could be expected and allowed Alonso to show that, entering his 40s, he was still capable of delivering a high level of performance. But based on the pace shown in pre-season testing this year, there’s no reason to expect anything dramatically different this year. The rate of development will be rapid and Alpine could spring a surprise in Bahrain this weekend when the serious stuff starts, but odds are it will be in that midfield pack.

Fernando Alonso Alpine F1

Alonso is saying all the right things, talking up the company’s commitment and determination to succeed in F1, and will surely give it his all on track in the coming months. But will Alpine have made sufficient progress to convince him that it’s on the right trajectory? Last year, Alpine Cars CEO Laurent Rossi set a 100-race objective to emerge as a frontrunner, which means 2024, and it’s perfectly possible Alonso could still be going then. But he will surely demand signs of improvement.

During the Bahrain test, The Race asked him if he believed Alpine could really be more than just a midfield team this year, or if it still required more time to evolve.

“It is an interesting question and we don’t have an answer yet,” said Alonso. “We have to wait and see how the first races develop and see what we need from the car and from the package.

“I’m optimistic because the team is putting a huge effort into this programme. We have the support from our president, we have the support from everyone at Renault and Alpine came last year to Formula 1 with the mind of this set of regulations and to try to be a contender in the future. If that future will be 2022 or 2025, I have no idea.

Fernando Alonso Alpine F1 Bahrain GP

“In race one, let’s see. It’s going to be a long game this year because the rate of development is going to be huge and there are 23 races.

“I remember last year, I retired the car here and Esteban was P13 so zero points after Bahrain and then we won a race in Hungary and we were enjoying the season. I’m confident that we will we will have a good season.”

Alonso didn’t say what constitutes a good season for him, but if he doesn’t see clear evidence that Alpine can be more than just a team that bounces around between fourth and sixth in the constructors’ championship – as it has since 2017 – it’s only logical for him to question if he’s in the right place?

The fire still burns brightly to win a third world championship, or at least add a few more wins to his victory tally of 32, but his F1 career is already in extra time. Does he try and find a berth at a team with better victory hopes next year, and if so would that opportunity really exist? Does he attempt to reshape Alpine in his own image? Does he decide it’s time to walk away? Or is it enough simply still to be in F1 and turning in impressive performances, even if they only yield modest positions?

We will have our answers soon enough, as only Alonso himself and those close to him will really know what is going through his mind and what his priorities are.

But what nobody can dispute is that he’s still a first-rate driver with a razor-sharp mind who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. At a time when F1 is blessed with tremendous depth in terms of driver quality – particularly in the age group 15 years his junior – he still more than earns his place on the grid.

Fernando Alonso Alpine F1

It would be a spectacular sight to see Alonso genuinely have the chance to mix it with the best of this new generation and even in a world championship fight. But doing so seems to depend on Alpine doing something it’s yet to prove it can do – make the leap from mid-pack to market-leader in F1. Alonso will already have a clear idea in his mind about how likely that is based on what he’s seen so far in testing.

For now, all we can be sure of is that Alonso will give it his all in the early races and at least produce performances that show he’s still as good as ever – even if he’s only going for minor results.

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