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Formula 1

Hamilton/Raikkonen support Alonso return, dismiss age

by Matt Beer
5 min read

Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton believe Fernando Alonso’s return is good for him and for Formula 1, and reckon age will be no detriment to his ability.

Alonso, who will be 39 when the 2021 season begins, will return to the F1 grid next year at Renault in place of Daniel Ricciardo, ending what will be a two-season absence from the championship.

The two-time world champion’s frustrating spell in the midfield with McLaren means he has not scored an F1 podium since 2014, and his last win came in 2013 with Ferrari.

But he has won a second Le Mans 24 Hours and the World Endurance Championship title, attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and made his Dakar Rally debut since his final grand prix in 2018, and believes he is technically and physically ready for an F1 return.

“It’s good news for F1 and for him,” said Raikkonen, the oldest driver on the grid at 40.

“We’ll see how that works out for both of them, I think they have a lot of history together.”

Hamilton added: “The more top drivers we have the better it is for the sport.

“I’ve not spoken to him so I don’t know his reasons, but congratulations to him.”

Raikkonen’s last grand prix victory came in the 2018 United States Grand Prix, a few days after his 39th birthday.

Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Austin 2018

It made him the 13th-oldest race winner in F1 history, the oldest since 41-year-old Nigel Mansell scored victory in the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, 35, has won four of his six world titles in his thirties and last year insisted he was noticing no decline as he got older.

Both drivers, when asked by The Race about the impact of age on an F1 driver, said it was down to the individual’s circumstances.

Raikkonen said “smarter” training, learning “what is helpful and what can be harmful”, meant there was no complication in terms of being physically prepared for F1.

He added it was a matter of continuing “as long as you feel that you are capable of doing what you expect to from yourself”.

“It’s just a number, but if you start feeling that things are happening a bit too fast then obviously that will come at some point,” he said.

“Whatever you do you can’t turn time backwards.

“But I haven’t honestly felt much different in recent years.”

Hamilton said Alonso’s experience will be a clear benefit to Renault, and doubts the Spaniard will return out of shape – citing Michael Schumacher’s return at the age of 41, despite having suffered a neck injury during his initial retirement, as an example.

“I would imagine there’s pros and cons,” Hamilton said of the impact of ageing as a driver.

“Definitely experience counts for a lot and when you’re working with a team particularly like Renault, well every team is, pushing to develop and move forward and evolve, experience can help the team move in the right direction.

“So that will definitely be a bonus for them.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be 40 yet. So, I don’t know how it is physically challenging.

“Michael came here I think he was physically great at that age. So, I have no doubts that Fernando can be in great shape.”

Lewis Hamilton Fernando Alonso F1 2020

Alonso will turn 40 during his comeback season, which is a preparatory year before what he and Renault hope will be a significantly more competitive 2022.

Renault is eyeing the new technical rules being introducing in 2022 to jump clear of the midfield and fight for wins and the title.

That means Alonso will be 41 during his second season, and 42 if he feels a third year is necessary and realistic for Renault – or maybe another team – to offer him a final championship shot.

Asked how far a driver could go into their forties, Raikkonen – who is 41 in October and may yet extend his own career beyond this season – said: “It’s impossible to answer. I think it’s a very individual thing.

“If you stay healthy and you don’t have any injuries and issues that will dictate a lot of things.

“Everybody will feel different. I’m sure there’s some point the limit comes, because the older you get things get more and more tricky.

“But I don’t feel that is happening at all yet. I don’t think anybody has an answer on that, everybody is different.”

‘Depriving youngsters? Alonso makes complete sense’

Alonso’s return was universally welcomed by the drivers who were asked about it on Thursday at the Red Bull Ring.

Some critics have suggested that Alonso, who will be 39 at the start of the 2020 season, should not have been picked over younger drivers, particularly as Renault has its own Academy with two proteges in Formula 2.

But Mercedes junior George Russell, F2 champion in 2018 prior to his graduation to F1 with Williams, said: “I was quite pleased about it because F1 is about having the best of the best drivers Fernando is absolutely one of the best.

“There’s arguments that people feel like he is depriving younger drivers of an opportunity but I think as things currently stand it makes complete sense for Renault, for Fernando and I think he’ll come back and do a great job.”

Championship leader Valtteri Bottas, whose Mercedes seat Alonso may well have coveted when he initially left F1 in 2018, said: “It’s good to see him back, he’s won championships, and is quite a big name in the sport.

“It’s important to have all the top drivers, best drivers in the world in this sport.

“So yes, he’s very welcome.”

Alonso will be reuniting with old rivals like Hamilton and Raikkonen when he makes his comeback but also face several drivers he has never competed again.

One of, those, Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi, said: “When I got into racing, I started racing at 13, he was definitely one of the drivers that I heard a lot about.

“Whenever I’m asked about a driver that I idolised or something like that, I say there was never one particular driver that I did idolise but there was always three specific ones that if you could replicate a certain aspect of each of their careers, or each of their traits and driving qualities, you’d be a pretty complete driver.

“One of those drivers was Alonso.”

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