Fernando Alonso returns to Formula One in 2021 and Jenson Button expects the Spaniard to be fully refreshed and “well-mannered”, which his former team-mate insists can only be good for the sport. But Button has warned it will not be easy for Alonso to replace McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo.
Alonso has a reputation for speaking his mind and causing issues within his team but Button believes the two-time F1 world champion will be on his best behaviour upon returning to the paddock.
Former Red Bull chief Christian Horner, speaking earlier this year, declared that Alonso has “tended to cause a bit of chaos wherever he’s gone” despite his brilliance on track.
Alonso, the winner of 32 Grands Prix and a 97-time podium finisher, had ugly falling-outs with McLaren and Ferrari in 2007 and 2014 respectively and has been labelled somewhat of a troublemaker ever since as a result.
Yet the 39-year-old, who turns 40 in July, returns to F1 in March when he will drive for Alpine, the team rebranded from Renault with whom Alonso won his 2005 and 2006 drivers’ titles.
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Alonso’s last drive came with McLaren with a disastrous four-year stint seeing him finish no higher than fifth and only finishing in the points in 25 of 77 races.
But the divisive Asturian, whose high-level racecraft sees him rightly regarded as one of the best racers of his generation, will be a more affable figure on his return reckons Button, who drove alongside Alonso at McLaren.
Speaking to PlanetF1, Button said: “I think it’s great. He’s a real personality and I think he has probably learned to be a little bit more humble over the last few years.
“I think you will see a really strong and well-mannered Fernando Alonso. It’s really good for the sport, really good for him and he seems to be working really hard on fitness, which is great.
“He’s going to need to be as he’s not a young spring chicken anymore!”
Button believes Alonso’s return is a welcome one for Alpine given he will offer plenty of experience, including some title-winning nous, for their other driver Esteban Ocon, only 24.
But the Brit, who won a drivers’ title himself in 2009, has warned that it will not be straightforward for Alonso to take the place of Ricciardo after his two years away from F1.
The Australian racer earned podiums at the Eifel Grand Prix and the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix and ended up fifth in the drivers’ standings.
His third-placed finish was Renault’s first podium since 2011 but Ricciardo has now departed to join Button and Alonso’s former team McLaren, who finished two places above Renault in the constructors’ standings and only below world champions Mercedes and runners-up Red Bull.
“It’s also good for Renault [Alpine], a team he [Alonso] has won two World Championships with, and to come back with them,” Button added.
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“Fernando has some big shoes to fill as Daniel Ricciardo was extremely good and nothing fazes him [Daniel].
“It’s going to be great fun to see Daniel at McLaren alongside Lando [Norris] but yes, great to see Fernando back on the grid.”
Outgoing team boss Cyril Abiteboul said after the news of Alonso’s return back in July that his outspokenness had been a topic of conversation between the driver and the team.
He told BBC Sport: “We discussed that. It is also one of the reasons why it was important for him to take a year off, to walk away from the sport.
“You know, let’s not underestimate how ruthless, how toxic F1 can be. No matter how hard you work, how hard you try, how good you think you are, sometimes it is just not possible.
“And I think that is what at some point burns out every one of us except maybe Toto [Wolff] and Mercedes and Lewis [Hamilton]. And doing this sort of break is the best guarantee that these things will not happen again.”
Renault announced ahead of the Alpine relaunch that team principal Abiteboul is leaving the company after a shake-up enforced by new CEO Luca de Meo with Laurent Rossi becoming the new CEO of Alpine and working under De Meo.
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