Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul has said the global health crisis prevented them from selecting an academy driver alongside Esteban Ocon for 2021.
Upon Wednesday’s confirmation that Fernando Alonso would be returning to Formula 1 with Renault in 2021, there was criticism from some quarters that the move hardly acted as a ringing endorsement for the Renault academy that Abiteboul has championed.
Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard are the two main contenders from the Renault academy to make the step up to Formula 1 but they were overlooked on this occasion because the team has not been able to fully judge them because of the lack of racing in 2020.
“It’s an important question because I can already expect that our decision to rejoin with Fernando could be seen as a lack of interest or loyalty to our own project of the Renault Sport Academy,” Abiteboul told the media in a press call.
“And it’s not, I want to be extremely clear that it is not. The plan of the Academy was to be able to have a driver joining Formula 1 in 2021. And who knows, it may be the case.
“But let’s face it, this year this crisis has had many severe impacts, one of which is to delay the season start and therefore the delay of ability to judge the performance of the two elders from our Academy, Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard.
“Both of them have done an extremely good weekend [in Austria], Zhou in particular could have won the race and Christian was P4 in his first race without any winter testing.
“So we are very very serious about the Academy, very serious about those two people in particular, and the plan will remain to see how they can join Formula 1.”
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) July 8, 2020
Alonso, involved in the same media call with Abiteboul, has pledged to do everything he can to help the young drivers when he fully re-embraces Formula 1.
“I’m aware of the Renault Sport Academy and the importance of it to the group, and I cannot agree more with Cyril’s words,” Alonso said.
“The young, talented guys are the future. So I will try to help as much as I can with my experience, in different categories as well and different driving styles.
“I am aware of my mission, not only in the car, but also outside the car, what I have to help and bring to Renault.
“I will try to do my best on track, and I will try to help the team to be a world champion team.
“If it’s with me driving, that would be fantastic.
“If that will be with a future and younger driver, I would feel proud anyway.”
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto also cited the global health crisis as a reason for deciding to part ways with Sebastian Vettel at the end of the 2020 season.