Alonso’s return: Past it or a masterstroke?

Jon Wilde
Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso

Is Fernando Alonso too long in the tooth to be making a Formula 1 comeback or is there ‘life in the old dog yet’?

PlanetF1 readers have been reacting to Felipe Massa’s fear that the Spaniard’s comeback with Renault next year, when he will turn 40, could go the same way as Michael Schumacher’s disappointing return to the sport at Mercedes between 2010 and 2012.

But even if the two-time former World Champion fails to relive the glory days, could his vast experience simply help to bring the team along faster than a younger driver would?

You can keep the [civil] conversation going in the comments section below. Feel free to get anything else F1-related off your chest as well and we may feature your thoughts in a future edition of our mailbox.

Will Alonso bring his ‘walking stick’?

Felipe Massa fears Fernando Alonso’s return to Formula 1 in 2021 could bear hallmarks of when Michael Schumacher came back from retirement.
Fernando Alonso

Rossi: Alonso’s comeback will be welcomed and greatly anticipated. It will be great for the sport of F1, and the Renault is a decent car as well. The layoff will affect him though at first and at the age of 40 we will have wait to see if he is still physiologically on point or a shell of his former self.

Chillzone: He [Alonso] should show up on the grid using a walking cane for comic effect like Jack Brabham once did. Brabham won his third title aged 40, was second the next year (albeit to his own teammate Hulme). Side-note, in his own team, even as a multiple WDC, he would often forgo better equipment and/or a seat so the drivers he was paying could have them.

Lucas: This idea about driving becoming slower due to “reaction times” is a long-standing myth that has absolutely *zero* support from evidence – actually the evidence that does exist actually show the opposite.

Some interesting facts about that: in the early 2000s, when thinking of ways of improving race starts, Ross Brawn ran some reaction time tests on his drivers. We all know Barrichello wasn’t as good as Schumacher, so it would be only obvious that Schumi’s reaction times would be much smaller, right? Guess what – they weren’t. Not only Barrichello’s reaction times were consistently much faster, but, to Brawn’s surprise he decided to do that with random team members and found out Schumacher’s reaction times were similar to his own – i.e., there is absolutely nothing special about reaction times of Formula 1 drivers (i.e., they follow the same distribution of regular people), because there is absolutely no correlation between having quicker reaction times and driving well – that was just a common-sense belief people never bothered to test because it should “obviously” be the case – until they did.

There is a specialist on sports medicine called Riccardo Ceccarelli who studied this subject a lot, and that was exactly what he found out after running many of those tests among drivers and regular people. He also identified the mental traits that are actually related to driving competitively (it is mostly about mental efficiency – using less of the brain capacity to control the car), and while they do decline after a while, that is far later than the a-typical retirement age from F1 drivers these days. Which explains why there have been cases of F1 drivers doing quite well in their forties (some even older than that – Mario Andretti was getting podiums and the odd win on his 50s!).

David Swager: People view the Schumacher return wrong, in my humble opinion. His value to Mercedes was not as a driver to win races and titles, but as a driver to help develop the car and the team. I actually think it is one reason Hamilton was willing to go to Merc. He saw what Schumacher had done with Ferrari and probably figured he was helping Merc in the same way even if Schumacher was unable to take full advantage of it himself. I think that is the value to a lesser extent of Alonso at Renault. Some drivers have the ability to improve the car and team beyond their driving ability, and some don’t. BTW, I think Alonzo outperformed in the Ferrari though his time there. The car just wasn’t great, and he was still winning races and challenging for titles.

Hamilton vs Verstappen

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton elbow bump

Boss: Hamilton wasn’t given fast cars by coincidence, he earned his place at a top team through winning earlier formulas with dominant displays. It would seem Mclaren made the correct decision to bring in Hamilton during his rookie season as he beat the reigning two-time champion in equal machinery, and won them a WDC which they hadn’t had since Mika. To this day it was their last WDC – 12 years ago now.

Place a rookie Max in the Mclaren of Hamilton for the first two seasons, and I think he would’ve have lost to Alonso and lost to Massa in 2008. Especially going by the fact that he lost to Ricciardo in his first two seasons at Red Bull. This is also going by the fact that he can’t handle internal pressure within the team like Hamilton had in 2007.

Fighting for a WDC is a whole different ball game compared to fighting for podium places. Max has not given enough performances to show he’ll compete for a WDC against the best of this generation if he were in the best machinery. I mean, he’s had some great wins, but thrown loads away and he’s most definitely had a car capable of more than 2 poles since 2017.

I think his entry into the sharp end of F1 was too early, and it hasn’t given him time to respect other drivers or the track. Even at this stage, I think he is behind a 2007 Hamilton. At the moment however he is in the perfect opportunity to really begin learning – he has a car that is 2nd best, has a compliant teammate, and has a team that will throw 100% of their weight behind him. I hope he really gets his act together because his potential is immense. But then again, potential is simply potential, without the right mindset and application it’s is simply a measure of what ‘could be’.

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