Written by Mario Rodríguez , edited by Sasha Macmilen
Fernando Alonso proved all his doubters wrong in the 2021 Formula One season. After being out of the sport for two years, some thought he wouldn’t be able to achieve good results and would be beaten by his younger team mate Esteban Ocon. But he came back with the same level of skills he had when his last race previous, the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Despite the fact that the Alpine wasn’t as fast as the 2020 Renault, Alonso was able to qualify in ninth place in Bahrain, reaching Q3 and beating Ocon. However, after a battle with Carlos Sainz and Sebastian Vettel, he was forced to retire because of a sandwich wrapper that had become stuck in his car’s rear brake duct, causing it to overheat. He then endured a series of bad results, as he was still in the adaptation process that affected every driver who moved to a new team, and he was also recovering from a cycling accident suffered in February 2021.
His season began to change in Baku, where he gained four positions after the red flag and finished in sixth place. From that race, he scored points in 12 of the remaining 15 races in the season, and produced some stellar moments of driving such as his defence against Lewis Hamilton in Hungary, or his podium in the Qatar Grand Prix. He finished the season in 10th place in the Drivers’ Championship with 81 points, ahead of Ocon, who had 74.
However, as he said in his post-race team radio in Abu Dhabi, “this was a warm-up”. With this season’s huge regulation change, many fans hoped this would give the Spaniard a chance to fight again at the top of the field- some even dreamed of the possibility of him finally clinching that third title after chasing it for so many years and having dealt with painfully slow cars during the way. Alonso’s return has also caused many fans (specially in Spain) to either return to the sport or start watching it because of his influence. “El Plan”, something that started as a Twitter meme, has turned into a real dream for some of those fans, who genuinely believe Alonso has a real chance of becoming the 2022 Formula 1 World Champion. However, is this really the case?
Originally planning to consistently fight for podiums or even wins by 2020 as Renault when they bought back Lotus in 2016, Alpine is one of those midfield teams who desperately needed a change in the regulations to have a chance of getting closer to the top teams, just as Brawn and Red Bull did back in 2009. They have a good lineup for this task, with an experienced champion of the sport in Alonso and a young star in Esteban Ocon, and they have been focusing on the new regulations for years. However, the results shown in pre-season don’t look really promising. Of course, they haven't shown their true pace - no team has.
But they’ve had a lot of reliability problems both in Barcelona and Bahrain, which have severely impacted their number of completed laps. They were the team with the eighth most laps in Barcelona and the seventh most in Bahrain. This can obviously be improved upon and solved, but the same can’t be said about the engine’s power because of the engine freeze until 2026. For that reason, the team stated that they would prioritise power over reliability until the engine freeze became effective. Whether or not they managed to extract the full potential of their engine is still unknown.
Despite these setbacks, Alonso himself seems happy with the car's performance, so we will have to wait and see. But for now, while we can't give an exact prediction about Alonso's results in 2022 until the lights go out in Bahrain and we can see how Alpine's car really performs, it doesn’t seem like they can fight for this year’s championship. If the new regulations really bring the field as close as they promise, we could certainly see Alpine fighting for podiums-just not regularly. But if that's the case, Alonso could certainly reach the impressive number of 100 career podiums as he only needs two more.
But what will happen once the 2022 season ends? That is the time when Alonso's current contract ends, but he has already talked about his intentions to continue in Formula 1 beyond that point. And that brings Alpine into a difficult situation, but perhaps one some teams would like to be involved in: having too many talented drivers. Alonso's teammate, Esteban Ocon, signed a new contract last year which links him to the team until 2024. And Alpine also have a future superstar in their academy and as their reserve driver: Oscar Piastri. The Australian driver won the Formula 3 Championship in 2020, then moved up to Formula 2 in 2021 and won the title as well. He is certainly a future star driver, but he hasn't found an available seat yet, which can be attributed to Alpine not having any influence in other teams (after all, no other team uses Renault engines). Even if it has recently been announced that McLaren has an option to call him in case one of their drivers needs a temporary replacement, he has proved he has enough talent to deserve a permanent race seat.
There is no apparent reason for Alonso to not want to extend his contract. He has a great relationship with the team and with his teammate Ocon, and their project seems to be focused on fighting for the championship in a few years. However, if the car is not competitive, the Spaniard might prefer to walk away from the sport and once again find glory elsewhere, maybe going back to endurance racing or trying a full IndyCar season to finally achieve the Triple Crown. But if he wants to stay, Piastri’s presence is a warning for him to keep performing at his current level. Of course, Ocon has to perform as well, but his contract until 2024 makes it seem like it would take a truly disastrous season for Alpine to decide to terminate it, and the Frenchman only seems to be getting better. For this reason, Alonso needs to keep his current pace and avoid relaxation. Both drivers will be under intense scrutiny this year, and a bad season by any of them could mean being swapped for Piastri.
But if Alonso does not extend his contract at the end of the season, where would he go? I have talked before about WEC and IndyCar, which seem like the most obvious choices to continue his racing career. After all, he is 40 years old and Formula One teams would probably rather sign a younger driver to build a project together. However, he might have a remote possibility of joining another team if they have an available seat: Aston Martin. Rumours about Alonso joining the Silverstone-based team have circulated for a few months. Aston Martin denied an offer for Alonso to replace Sebastian Vettel in 2022 (which the Spaniard apparently rejected), but new rumours suggest Aston wanted to sign him in 2020, before Vettel arrived. If that is true, and Vettel decides to retire from the sport at the end of 2022, Lawrence Stroll might try to sign him alongside his son, Lance.
So, what do you think? Can Alonso still win a third championship, and will he be in Formula 1 in the next few years? Let us know in the comments!
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