Fernando Alonso made his return to racing in F1 at the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend at the age of 39, getting back into the racing seat with his old team under a new name in Alpine and showing his pedigree before a wayward sandwich bag brought his race to an end.
However, ever since the Spanish two-time world champion made his return to an F1 car as part of the ‘young’ drivers’ test in Abu Dhabi during the winter break, questions have been raised about whether he should have gotten back on the grid.
Now, former Red Bull driver Mark Webber has weighed in on the debate, telling the On the Marbles podcast that he believes that while the driver retains strong racing pedigree, the sport must look to develop young drivers with an eye towards the future.
"Mixed emotions on this one for me. I have a massive amount of respect for Fernando one of the best that ever raced in our sport, he came through with just grit and determination, it wasn't a silver platter by any means," he said.
"What he did against Michael (Schumacher), what he did with Lewis, you know, he's done some incredible stuff on Sundays. There weren't many better when he was at his peak.
"But look, there is a point where I love youth coming through, seeing where is the next Max Verstappen, where is the next Charles Leclerc, because they are great for the sport.
"Is he what Fernando did for the sport when he arrived at 20? I don’t think he is, no. He is a big name, unquestionably. Huge for Spain, great for the sport, but I just think that our sport should continue to look to the future and find the Alonso that we found 20 years ago."
However, David Coulthard said that while the return of Alonso would unquestionably put pressure on his younger teammate, Frenchman Esteban Ocon, to perform, he hadn’t simply been given the place by Alpine based on his history in F1.
"What I would say is if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and if you’re good enough, you’re not too old," he said.
"That’s the bottom line. He is not there because F1 is throwing him a charity line, he is there because he wants to be there."