Dubai: A total of 11 world titles shared between three world champions - that was the count till Tuesday when a fourth former world champion tipped the scales to enter the fray, but from next season.
While two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is bound to bring in a new-found excitement, the sport will shed off four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who is yet to find a new team for 2021. Vettel’s career at Ferrari will end with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the first week of December this year, but the entry of the Spanish driver promises to take things at a different level.
What is perhaps amazing is how the two former world champions are linked with current six-time defending champion Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton has six crowns and the likelihood of tying with the great Michael Schumacher by the end of the season. What’s interesting is that Alonso took over from Schumacher for his two successive titles in 2005 and 2006 and after Kimi Raikkonen had won his only crown in 2007, it was Hamilton who announced his arrival with the 2008 title.
Jenson Button weathered off Vettel to claim the 2009 crown, and there was no denying the German the next season as he took the next four titles between 2010 to 2013 to eventually surrender to Hamilton.
And now, with former four-time champion Vettel still looking out for a team, it is the arrival of Alonso that has given the sport a certain lift with the Spaniard replacing McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo with a two-year deal that will cover the 2021 and 2022 seasons alongside partner Esteban Ocon.
For the time being, Alonso will continue contesting in this year’s Indy 500 with the Arrow McLaren SP team. When he does return to the Renault pit, he will find that not much has changed with the team over the past decade.
For one, there are still many people at Enstone who know him well from his previous stints with the team, including veteran sporting director Alan Permane.
Alonso will also be reunited with current Renault technical director Pat Fry, with whom he has worked at both McLaren and Ferrari.
On the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last season, a few of the top drivers were not convinced that Alonso had parted ways with F1 for good. Not yet officially retired from the sport, Alonso had always admitted to his desire of returning to the F1 fold - more so with the projected rule changes that have been pushed forward from the 2022 season.
The 38-year-old Spaniard, who left F1 at the end of the 2018 season to successfully pursue other forms of motorsport including the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race and the Dakar Rally, had a whole bunch of current drivers backing his return.
“Fernando’s obviously a well-accomplished driver. I haven’t spoken to him, so I don’t know how much he’s been feeling or how much he’s missed it. But I don’t think it would be bad for the sport,” world champion Hamilton had remarked at the end of the 2019.
Alonso is going to be around to fulfill this promise.