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F1: Fernando Alonso says age no barrier as he expects strong return

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Though Fernando Alonso will be 39 when he returns to Formula One next season with Renault, he feels his reflexes and racing craft will not weaken with age.

His widely anticipated F1 return became official Wednesday when the French manufacturer announced that he will replace Daniel Ricciardo next year.

Alonso won both of his world titles with Renault in 2005-06 but still looked sharp driving an uncompetitive car during his last season with McLaren in 2018 before walking away.

“The stopwatch is the only thing that matters, not the age,” he said Wednesday during a media session. “I never had a classification on the race based on the passport, my date of birth. It’s always on stopwatch. Hopefully we’re still fast.”

That remains to be seen considering Renault struggled last season, finishing fifth in the constructors’ championship and one place behind McLaren, the team it supplies engines to.

But he certainly feels in good enough shape to take up the challenge.

“I had to start very specific fitness preparations, I started in February, so now I’m 100%,” he said. “We did a couple of fitness tests 15 days ago, and I had the best results ever in my career, so I’m extremely motivated, happy and stronger than ever.”

However, because of rule changes teams will use the same cars for 2021, and Alonso may not have a genuinely competitive car until 2022, when he will turn 41 in late July.

“I will try to do my best, and try and help the team be a world champion team. If that’s with me driving, fantastic, but if that’s with a future younger driver, I will feel proud anyway,” he said. “I think the 2022 rules will hopefully bring some fairness to the sport and some close action with teams more level and less scope to invent something that has a large performance advantage.”

Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said part of Alonso’s role will be to offer, advise and support young prospects coming through the Renault Sport Academy.

“His presence in our team is a formidable asset on the sporting level,” Abiteboul said. “His experience and determination will enable us to get the best out of each other.”

Alonso, who will race alongside French driver Esteban Ocon next year, had quit F1 to focus on winning motorsport’s triple crown.

Having already won the Monaco Grand Prix, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race but still is hunting the Indianapolis 500. He is entered at the Brickyard for the race’s rescheduled 104th running Aug. 23 (on NBC).

Alonso won 32 F1 races and is widely considered one of the most talented drivers of his era alongside six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton.

“It’s a great source of pride and with an immense emotion I’m returning to the team that gave me my chance at the start of my career,” Alonso said. “I have principles and ambitions in line with the team’s project.”

Alonso showed remarkable consistency when finishing on the podium in the first nine races of the 2006 campaign, and has 97 top-three finishes in F1.

“He is an incredible talent, and we can’t wait to have him back on the grid,” F1 chairman Chase Carey said.

Alonso is sixth on the all-time win list, but his last came at the Spanish GP seven years ago with Ferrari. He finished runner-up in the title race three times with the famed Italian manufacturer before joining McLaren in 2015.

McLaren struggled badly after switching to a Honda engine, and he failed to secure a podium finish in four seasons.

Sergio Perez still has coronavirus; will miss second consecutive F1 race

F1 Sergio Perez out
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SILVERSTONE, England — Sergio Perez will be out for a second F1 race at Silverstone this week after again testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Mexican driver had hoped to return to Formula One after spending seven days in quarantine, but his Racing Point team said this morning he had tested positive.

“He is physically well and recovering,” the team said. “The whole team wishes Sergio and his family well and we look forward to his return.”

That means German veteran Nico Hulkenberg again fills in for Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after having also replaced Sergio Perez when he was out for the F1 British Grand Prix at the same venue last week. Hulkenberg did not start that race because of an engine problem.

There are two consecutive weekends of racing at Silverstone as Formula One tries to pack in races following the pandemic-delayed start to the season.

Perez became the first Formula One driver to test positive for coronavirus, and it had been unclear whether he would be available to drive after the period of quarantine was extended to 10 days.

Racing Point also was in the news Friday after being hit with a 15-point penalty in the Formula One constructors’ championship and fined 400,000 euros ($470,000) Friday for using brake ducts based on those from last year’s Mercedes cars.

The stewards ruled that Mercedes was the “principal designer” of the parts, and that Racing Point made only minor changes to computer design data it received from Mercedes.

Rival team Renault filed protests about the legality of the brake ducts, which were added to the “listed parts” under F1 rules for 2020. That means teams must design their own. Racing Point argued it was merely using information about the Mercedes parts to inform its own design.

Racing Point uses customer engines from Mercedes and has admitted basing its 2020 car design on photographs of last year’s Mercedes car. The similarities led to the Racing Point being nicknamed the “pink Mercedes” when it was first seen in testing ahead of the season.

Racing Point can appeal the ruling. The points deduction drops the team from fifth to sixth in the standings, below Renault. The ruling doesn’t affect the points totals for Racing Point’s drivers.