It wasn’t all plain-sailing for Fernando Alonso on his return to Formula 1 in 2021 as he initially struggled to adapt to life with Alpine.

Recovering from a broken jaw after a pre-season cycling accident and very limited testing time meant Alonso was always going to find it difficult in the first part of the season.

Adaptation proved to be tricky, even for a driver of Alonso’s calibre, who is notorious for getting the most out of any car he drives.

Alonso spent two years away from F1 after leaving McLaren at the end of 2018 - winning the World Endurance Championship, which included a couple of wins at Le Mans, the Dakar Rally, while also racing in the Indianapolis 500.

The two-time F1 champion maintained his ultra-competitive edge during his time away but F1 is a unique challenge and it’s the pinnacle of motorsport for a reason.

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Alonso struggled in the opening part of the season as Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon - who faced similar adaption issues of his own in 2020 alongside Daniel Ricciardo after a year away - finished ahead of him on track at each of the first four rounds.

Alonso said it was always going to take time and by the time we arrived in Azerbaijan, we saw a glimpse of that opportunistic brilliance that we've grown to love over the years.

Starting in 10th place at the restart after the red flag for Max Verstappen’s tyre failure, Alonso moved up to sixth in what was a sensational couple of final laps for the Spaniard.

The momentum continued into the next run of races as he scored points in France and both rounds at the Red Bull Ring.

Alonso put on another Lap 1 masterclass in the Silverstone sprint race - charging from 11th up to fifth.

His outstanding racecraft continued and was on display at the Hungarian Grand Prix, defending from the fast-charging Lewis Hamilton - crucially, it was Alonso’s defending that handed Esteban Ocon the victory and the Enstone-based team’s first since 2013.

Alonso has often been criticised throughout his career for not being a team player or being difficult to work with, but it was clear on his return to the sport, he was willing to do so and had built up a strong relationship with Ocon.

The duo’s consistency allowed it to maintain fifth in the championship ahead of AlphaTauri, who continued to underperform mainly due to Yuki Tsunoda’s struggles in the first two-thirds of the season.

Alonso's form continued to be impressive in the second half of the year and was on course to return to the podium in Sochi, even overtaking eventual 2021 F1 world champion Max Verstappen.

But unfortunately, like several of his rivals, Alonso didn't pit for intermediates at the right time, dropping to sixth.

He wouldn't have to wait much longer for his chance of a podium as he returned to the rostrum in Qatar.

On the risky one-stop strategy, Alonso fended off Perez in the closing laps to finish on the podium for the first time since 2014.

His consistent form in the second half of the year meant that Alonso secured 10th in the drivers’ championship after finishing eighth at the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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After a tricky start to the season, Alonso quickly showed that he still is one of the very best in F1 with his superb wheel-to-wheel ability and race day performances.

Alonso and Ocon were one of the most evenly matched teammates on the grid (11-10 in Alonso’s favour in the races; 11-11 in qualifying), which is testament to the Frenchman’s level of performance throughout the year.

Alonso will hope to have a bigger advantage over his teammate should ‘El Plan’ come into fruition in 2022 but it’s fair to say his comeback - at least so far - has been a success.

Come back tomorrow to find out who sits at #6 on our list