KNUTSON: The F-1 Age Factor

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Knutson
Dan Knutson.

After being away for two years, Fernando Alonso wants to make a return to Formula One in 2021.

He will turn 40 on July 29, 2021. But Alonso is not worried.

“I don’t think age will be a problem,” Alonso said in an interview with F1 Racing. “These cars, with no fuel stops, are not so demanding. You drive seven or eight seconds (a lap) slower on a Sunday than you do on a Saturday. Also, with the new 18-inch wheels it will change the handling of the car, and everyone will need to reset the way they drive.”

If Kimi Raikkonen remains in F-1 in 2021 he will be 41. Lewis Hamilton will be 36 in 2021.

It is possible to take a year or two off from F-1 and still be able to win when you come back. Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Niki Lauda proved that.

But Michael Schumacher struggled when he returned after three years away. He was 41 when he joined Mercedes in 2010.

To be fair, the team was not all that competitive during Schumacher’s three seasons with the team. It finished fourth or fifth in the constructors’ championship. Schumacher had just one podium finish and no wins.

Mercedes had just one win during those three years, and that was in 2012 with Nico Rosberg.

It was only in 2013, after Schumacher had retired again, and when Hamilton had joined the team, that Mercedes started to be quick. Schumacher probably could have won in 2013, although he would have been 44 by then.

“Michael came back to F-1 in an era of Pirelli when the tires were very sensitive,” Alonso said. “We had developed skills to take care of the tires and not overheat them, and he was struggling more because of that. In 2021 this won’t be a problem for me.”

Hamilton was asked at last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix what he thought about a possible Alonso return to F-1.

“I’d be more just happy that I won’t be the oldest here!” Hamilton quipped. “Fernando’s obviously a well-accomplished driver. It’s interesting to see in the past, with drivers wanting to come back, like Michael (Schumacher), and it’s something you’ve done your whole life. Ultimately, there are a lot of young kids on their way up and there are only 20 seats. He has also had his period of time there, but if there are no other good youngsters coming through, then (there could be a seat for Alonso).”

There is another factor in all of this. Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari aren’t interested in Alonso, and would he be interested in driving for a team that does not have a realistic chance of winning?