Renault has confirmed the signing of two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso to replace Daniel Ricciardo for the 2021 season.
Alonso has agreed an initial two-year deal to return for a third stint at the manufacturer with which he won his 2005 and 2006 titles, and partner Esteban Ocon.
“The team wants and has the means to get back on the podium, as do I” :: Fernando Alonso
His return to Renault will end a two-season absence from F1 racing after Alonso decided to leave at the end of the 2018 season, citing the need to find new motivations and challenges having grown frustrated with the domination of F1 by Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
“Renault is my family, my fondest memories in Formula 1 with my two world championship titles, but I’m now looking ahead,” said Alonso.
“Renault is my family, my fondest memories in Formula One with my two World Championship titles, but I'm now looking ahead. It's a great source of pride and with an immense emotion I’m returning to the team […]" – @alo_oficial #RSspirit pic.twitter.com/H9tUKpr4OI
— Renault F1 Team (@RenaultF1Team) July 8, 2020
“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 and which now gives me the opportunity to return to the highest level.
“I have principles and ambitions in line with the team’s project.
“Their progress this winter gives credibility to the objectives for the 2022 season and I will share all my racing experience with everyone from the engineers to the mechanics and my team-mates.
“The team wants and has the means to get back on the podium, as do I.”
Alonso added a second Le Mans 24 Hours win and clinched the World Endurance Championship title in 2019, a year after a debut Le Mans win alongside his final McLaren season, and made his Dakar Rally debut.
He also failed to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 in his pursuit of motor racing’s Triple Crown, but will return to the American race this August with McLaren’s team.
What to expect
Alonso faces a return to the F1 midfield in 2021 because the coronavirus pandemic has triggered cost-saving measures in F1 that means this year’s cars will be mostly carried over.
Renault started the 2020 season last weekend struggling at the bottom of the top 10, is unlikely to be more than fighting for best of the rest again in 2021.
It has slipped back from its fourth-place finish in the constructors’ championship in 2018 despite significant infrastructure development since taking back control of the Lotus team that succeeded Renault’s previous works entry.
“It is a bold mutual choice as well as a project for the future” :: Cyril Abiteboul
But Renault is hopeful that a revised technical structure and the incoming new car rules for 2022 will vault it to race-winning form and title contention.
“The signing of Fernando Alonso is part of Groupe Renault’s plan to continue its commitment to F1 and to return to the top of the field,” said team boss Cyril Abiteboul.
“His presence in our team is a formidable asset on the sporting level but also for the brand to which he is very attached.
“The strength of the bond between him, the team and the fans make him a natural choice.
“In addition to past successes, it is a bold mutual choice as well as a project for the future.
“His experience and determination will enable us to get the best out of each other to take the team towards the excellence that modern Formula 1 demands.
“He will also bring to our team, which has grown very fast, a culture of racing and winning to overcome hurdles together.
“Alongside Esteban, his mission will be to help Renault DP World F1 Team prepare for the 2022 season in the best possible conditions.”
Alonso’s career gets an extra chapter
Alonso made his F1 debut with Minardi in 2001 and his first spell at Renault began the following season when he had a year on the sidelines as its test driver, before replacing Jenson Button for 2003.
He scored his first win in F1 that season then his first world title in 2005 and a second championship in 2006.
Alonso left for McLaren in 2007 but an acrimonious year meant that partnership ended swiftly and Alonso returned to Renault for a disappointing 2008-09 spell, though he was at least a race winner again.
He spent the 2010-2014 seasons racing for Ferrari and nearly won the 2010 and 2012 titles, but orchestrated a move back to McLaren for its ill-fated Honda reunion after falling out with the Italian team.
McLaren’s struggles, first with Honda and then when the realisation of its own shortcomings became apparent, mean Alonso has not won a grand prix since 2013 and earned his last podium a year later.
But Ricciardo’s lack of faith in the Renault project and a driver market merry-go-round triggered by Ferrari axing Sebastian Vettel has opened the door for Alonso’s return, and given him the chance to bow out of F1 a second with more impact than his first goodbye.