Alonso comes to grips with F1 surprises

After two-year hiatus, Spaniard touts his first Renault drive as a 'new beginning'

LONDON • Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said he was ready for a fresh start as he tested the latest Renault Formula One car in Barcelona on Tuesday.

The Spaniard, also a two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner, has not competed in a grand prix since he left McLaren at the end of 2018 but is returning next year as the replacement for the departing Australian Daniel Ricciardo.

"It's going to be like a new beginning, getting surprised about the speed of the car, the braking performance, the corner speed, a lot of things that will surprise me once again," the 39-year-old said before the filming day for a promotional video.

The drive in the RS20 car came 20 years after Alonso first tested with Benetton - the team who then became Renault - at the same circuit.

He scored two of his 32 F1 victories in the Spanish Grand Prix, in 2006 and 2013, and had five further podium finishes on the track.

Alonso said preparing for the limited mileage outing had been complicated by Covid-19 restrictions, with fewer days in the simulator to adjust, but the run was worth it.

"It was really very special for me to get back into an F1 car. The feeling was good. I think the car is obviously outperforming me at the moment, because I cannot extract the maximum from the car," he said after completing the maximum 100km allowed under the testing rules in a session officially being used to make a promotional film.

"Getting back to the F1 speed is not so easy. I was improving lap after lap, and trying to give feedback to the engineers. Also we had some filming to do, so there were cameras, there were drones following on track."

Team boss Cyril Abiteboul said after Sunday's Eifel Grand Prix at Germany's Nurburgring, where Ricciardo finished third for Renault's first podium since their return as a constructor in 2016, that Alonso was champing at the bit to return.

"We received a message before, during and after the race," said the Frenchman. "I think Fernando is like a big shark. And as soon as he starts to feel the blood he wants to attack. That's what I see - I see a shark very hungry."

Alonso agreed in July to rejoin Renault next season when the team will compete as Alpine, the French manufacturer's sports car brand. "I'm comfortable here with Renault," he said. "Everything is a bit easier when you know the faces and the team."

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    F1 drivers' championships Fernando Alonso won with Renault.

The Spaniard, who won his titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours as well as the endurance world championship, all with Toyota, since leaving F1.

This year, he was 13th in the Dakar rally and 21st in his second Indianapolis 500 race.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2020, with the headline 'Alonso comes to grips with F1 surprises'. Print Edition | Subscribe