Fernando Alonso will make his Formula One comeback this season with titanium plates in his jaw. The double world champion had the plates inserted after a cycling accident in February, he revealed on the first day of testing in Bahrain. On track, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen headed the time sheets while Mercedes suffered a setback, losing almost their entire morning running because of a mechanical problem.
Alonso does not foresee the accident having any impact on his performance. “I don’t expect any issues,” he said. “I’ve been training for three weeks or two weeks, absolutely normal, and I’ve been in the simulator as well. One thing is the professional side and driving side, which is 100%. On the personal side I will have to remove two titanium plates that I have on the upper jaw, that will be removed at the end of the season.”
Alonso will drive for Alpine this season, formerly the Renault team, with whom he won both titles in 2005 and 2006. He left F1 in 2019 frustrated at being unable to challenge at the front but is optimistic that when new regulations come into play in 2022 Alpine will be able to fight for wins and potentially the title.
Testing has been restricted to three days this year, making track time vital, but Mercedes experienced early difficulties. They had to change the gearbox on their car after only one lap for Valtteri Bottas. They did so but Bottas had time to conclude only six laps before the end of the session.
The team principal, Toto Wolff, admitted the problem had taken the team by surprise and that they could not afford to lose any more time. “It wasn’t a good start, because we had a gearbox issue that came out of nowhere that we haven’t yet been ready to identify and understand,” he said. “If we are able to have a smoother ride from here onwards, then I think we can recover. If we have more stumbling blocks, then obviously with three days there’s not a lot you can do.”
The defending champion Lewis Hamilton took the wheel in the afternoon despite the Sakhir circuit being swept by a sandstorm and completed 42 laps, finishing 10th fastest. Mercedes, however, concluded with just 48 laps, the lowest of any team. In contrast Red Bull were out of the blocks with alacrity. Verstappen finished with 139 laps – two race distances – a very positive sign for their new Honda engine, and the Dutchman went quickest in front of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.