LONDON (Reuters) – Esteban Ocon expects new team mate Fernando Alonso to come back strongly with Renault-owned Alpine this season after two years out of Formula One and at the age of 39.
The double world champion will be the second oldest driver after Alfa Romeo’s 41-year-old Kimi Raikkonen and last month had jaw surgery after a collision with a car while cycling in Switzerland.
Ocon, 24, said he had been impressed by the Spaniard’s performance in post-season testing last December and had no doubt he would be hard to beat.
“What we have seen with Fernando in Abu Dhabi is that he doesn’t look like a 39-year-old and he doesn’t drive like a 39-year-old,” he told reporters ahead of the launch of the team’s 2021 car.
“So trust me, he will be ready and he will be performing at top level. No doubt he will be strong but I will do my best against him and push him as hard as I can.”
Alonso, who has replaced departed Australian Daniel Ricciardo, won his titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and many of the people who worked with him then are still at the Enstone factory.
The Spaniard’s Formula One career, with 32 race wins, started in 2001 and includes stints at McLaren and Ferrari.
Ocon has yet to stand on the top step of the podium but he said Alonso would not be favoured in the team.
“He’s obviously a great champion but the team is going to listen to me as well,” said the Frenchman. “And I have the experience of the car from last year, we know the way that we have to develop it and at the moment Fernando says the same things.
“He brings his opinion and it’s not too dissimilar. The team is trusting me for what I’m giving, for the feedback I’m giving, what we want to achieve basically. It’s not because Fernando is coming that all the development is going to be his side.
“That’s not the policy of the team and it will stay like that.”
The season starts in Bahrain on March 28 after three days of testing from March 12-14.
(This story changes 2020 to 2021 in para four)
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)