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Dennis: Great years lie ahead of Alonso at McLaren

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McLaren CEO Ron Dennis is confident that great years lie ahead of two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso at the team despite enduring a difficult year in 2015.

Alonso returned to McLaren at the end of 2014 following a five-year stint with Ferrari, but toiled to his worst season since debuting with Minardi back in 2001 due to a myriad of problems with the new Honda power unit.

Alonso scored points in just two races – Britain and Hungary – and finished 17th in the drivers’ championship, prompting suggestions that he could take a sabbatical from F1 in 2016 unless McLaren improved its car for the new season.

In an interview quoted by the official F1 website, McLaren boss Dennis made clear that Alonso has a three year deal with the team that he will see out, and also said that the Spaniard knew that 2015 may be a year of turmoil upon joining the team.

“Fernando’s contract is of three years’ duration – no performance clauses, no nothing,” Dennis said. “He always knew that 2015 would be a learning year.

“He knows equally well that, together with Honda, we’ll make big improvements. So he joined us with open eyes.

“Together with the expertise and experience he’s cultivated over the past 15 years spent racing in Formula 1, he still bristles with energy and enthusiasm.

“He’s had better years than 2015, obviously, but he knows that great years lie ahead of him, with McLaren-Honda.”

Arguably, Alonso’s finest hour came in Brazil when he began sunbathing on a deck chair after being sidelined by an issue on his car in qualifying, sparking the #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe meme on Twitter.

Dennis, renowned for his corporate and official nature, admitted that Alonso’s actions did amuse him before praising the Spaniard.

“I chuckled to myself, to be honest,” Dennis admitted. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of humour.

“And Fernando is as hard-working as he is talented, be in no doubt of that. He’s matured enormously since he last drove for us, eight years ago, and he’s now one of the most complete drivers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

“He has what I often refer to as the four e’s that all racing drivers should aspire to cultivate: energy, enthusiasm, expertise and experience.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).