Fernando Alonso admitted that he has plenty of catching up to do after getting behind the wheel for the first time since agreeing his Formula One return, with the two-time world champion “out-performed” by the Renault that he will be driving next year.
The Spaniard took part in a filming day at Barcelona’s Catalunya circuit, which allowed him to test this year’s RS20 for up to 100km ahead of his return to the sport next season.
Alonso is due to replace McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo in 2021, and was buoyed by seeing the Australian take the team’s first podium finish since the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. With strict limits placed on F1 testing throughout the season, Renault chose to use one of their allocated filming days to help the 2005 and 2006 world champion to get back up to speed, but though he last raced in the sport as recently as 2018 in his final season with McLaren, Alonso quickly learnt he has plenty of work to do.
“The feeling was good,” Alonso said in a live Instagram chat streamed through the Renault team account. “But I think the car is out-performing me at the moment because I cannot extract the maximum from the car yet.
“Getting back up to Formula One speed is not so easy, but 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 and drones following me on the track. It was hard pressure and hard work today, but I think the car has potential as we see every weekend, but there’s still some room to improve as we know and we will try to do it in the short-term.
“There are many things to get ready. First will be the fitness, you have to be back in shape, you have to train for Formula One standards especially with the neck and the upper part of the body. We need to reinforce and work on that in the next couple of months.
“The neck feels ok after 100km but I will tell you tomorrow if there’s maybe a little bit of pain, but so far so good. I know that I need to keep working, and then preparations in terms of comfort seat fitting, the steering wheel, pedal positions, there are many things that we need to go through, and also with the engineers to make sure that we have a good relationship, a good connection and that we understand each other even just by looking at each other.
“All those kind of things will need a little bit of time but we are using this last part of 2020 and the winter of next year to build the momentum.”
Ricciardo’s third-place finish in Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix capped a string of strong results, with the Renault driver finishing within the top five in each of his last three races that has moved the French manufacturer up to third in the constructors’ championship. In order to help Alonso hit the ground running, the team have provided access to on-board cameras, radio and telemetry so that he already feels part of the team, with his input also welcomed during debrief meetings.
He will return to F1 after spending time away from the sport to try conquer the rest of the motorsports world, having twice won the Le Mans 24 Hours and competing in the Indianapolis 500 and Dakar Rally inside the last 18 months.
“The last three cars I drove was the Dakar in January, Indy Car in August and now Formula One,” he added. “They cannot be more separate than each other. But with Formula One it’s a little bit easier because this is the thing that I’ve been driving all my life.
“After 18 years in Formula One, now getting back - yes it’s true that you’re missing a few of brake points because of how quick all the corners arrive, braking performance, corner speed, and there are many things that I need to get used to again - but it will take a shorter period of time than getting used to something completely new.”
With the sporting regulations frozen for 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Alonso expects next season to play out in a similar way to this season, meaning the midfield pack will find themselves chasing Mercedes and Red Bull once again.
He said: “We all have high hopes inside the team, looking at this year’s car and the team’s progress in the championship and the positions at the weekend. But at the same time I think we need to have our feet on the ground knowing that the regulations will be more or less the same until 2022, so we know that the deficit that all the midfield teams have right now will carry on for next year.
“We have our feet on the ground but with a lot of positive energy and optimism for next year and I think we have a great team with talented people, great sponsors and a lot of fans around the world. I think we have all the ingredients for a good 2021.”
The former Ferrari and McLaren driver, who will be returning for his third stint with Renault in a well-travelled career that started back in 2001 with backmarkers Minardi, also plans on unveiling a new helmet design different to the worn he used on Tuesday, though teased fans that it would resemble one of his famous designs from early in his career.
“I think the helmet next year will be very different,” he said. “I cannot tell you much more. You should guess which helmet it will be similar to. You will have to go back 14 or 15 years and look at those helmets and that will be the inspiration for next year.”
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