Rumours are rife that Renault may be ready to announce Fernando Alonso to replace the departing Daniel Ricciardo on Wednesday.
But is this indicative of Renault’s need for experience amidst restructure or something far more banal?
It may have slipped by many in recent months, but as it stands, there is still a vacant seat at Renault next season.
In the two months since Daniel Ricciardo’s move to McLaren was revealed, things have been very silent on the Renault front. That is – apparently – until this Wednesday, when it is believed that Fernando Alonso’s champion-like return is due to be confirmed.
Alonso’s return to the team where he won his two World Championship’s is all very interesting, but if it proves to be true, it will surely add to growing belief that Renault’s conservative nature in Formula One is indicative of banality disguised as ambition.
Beyond the excitement that will come from seeing Alonso on the grid again next year, what does it say of Renault’s position in Formula One when the question of who will take a factory F1 drive next year merely raises shoulder shrugs of interest?
Much has been made of Renault’s struggles in recent seasons but attempts to bulk up the technical team and facilities in both Enstone and Viry have not been met with reward on track. If anything, based on the weekend’s performance in Styria, the French manufacturer have been overtaken by Racing Point, having fallen further behind McLaren.
Indeed, Sunday’s Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring was another example of how the story of Formula One appears to be passing the French manufacturer by, as Esteban Ocon took a somewhat middling 8th (from only eleven finishers) and Ricciardo retired at the one-third point with a cooling issue.
There is little doubt that the bulk of the team are very good, the drivers are very good, but that there are possible frailties elsewhere, and if one is to believe whispers, fractures sit within and around the management structure of the team.
Those issues can only be fixed in the corridors of France and England, but for now, it does not appear as if they will change and this will only prolong the yellow team’s anonymity in Formula One. Some very tough decisions need to be made at Renault’s hierarchy and until these are made, Renault’s placement will not change for the better, no matter who is behind the wheel.
Alas the tentacles of mediocrity burrow deep, and while bringing Alonso may help bolster results in the short term, with his tenacity and drive pushing team members forward, it will not eliminate pre-existing frailties and if those weaknesses are not rectified, Alonso will simply leave. This time for good.
Ever since the Ricciardo/McLaren announcement, Alonso has seemed to be the most logical fit given Renault’s current situation. There are options beyond the Spaniard of course – the most obvious being Ferrari-reject Sebastian Vettel and while importing Vettel may be a move that could also revitalise Renault, there are questions regarding his motivation, long-term goals and significant salary cost.
Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen will also be available come the end of this year, but neither will represent the step-up that the French manufacturer so badly need.
Of the Renault Sport Academy, Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard could possibly make the leap, but only if they take top positions in the Formula 2 Championship to gain the necessary Super Licence points.
Given Renault’s requirements and the young pairing’s largely lukewarm status’, that surely puts them firmly out of the loop – for now. If they, in time, become better than merely good drivers, a future in Formula One is still open.
In the meantime, the pointers are looking at Alonso, as he aims for one last blast back, one final opportunity in Formula One. There is no doubt his presence would be welcome, but one hopes it is not another wasted chance upon which his helmet gets hung.