Nearly two years after announcing his retirement from the sport, iconic driver Fernando Alonso has confirmed his return to Formula 1 in 2021. The two-time world champion has inked a deal with Renault and will be joining Esteban Ocon in the paddock. This will be the Spaniard's third separate stint with Renault having raced with the team between 2003-2006, which is also when he won two world titles, followed by a stint in 2008-2009. The legendary driver makes a return after having raced in other forms of motorsport challenges including the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the Dakar in the past year.
With his return, Alonso, who turns 39-years this month, also becomes one of the senior-most drivers on the grid for 2021. He also fulfils the void of a star driver in Renault's garage that the team needed after Daniel Ricciardo announced his exit for McLaren in 2021. While the factory team has not announced the length of the contract with Alonso, it is likely to be for a minimum of two seasons, allowing Renault enough time to develop the all-new new F1 car that meets the radical new rules for 2022.
Speaking about Alonso's return, Cyril Abiteboul, MD, Renault F1 Team, said, "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. 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. Alongside Esteban, his mission will be to help Renault DP World F1 Team prepare for the 2022 season in the best possible conditions."
Speaking on his return to F1 with Renault, Alonso said, "Renault is my family, my fondest memories in Formula 1 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 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."
While Alonso's return has been largely welcomed by fans, there also have been naysayers who believe the seat could go to a younger driver who would get a career boost in that position. From F1's perspective though, Alonso belongs to the old school world of racing and his presence would make for an interesting grid as newer drivers including Max Verstappen, Alex Albon, Lando Norris challenge the status quo. It also makes for an interesting watch when the new rules kick-in in 2022, which was originally scheduled for next year but has been delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic; and is expected to level the playing field for a midfield team like Renault.
Since announcing his exit from F1 in 2018, Alonso didn't quit racing. He found the thrills in WEC winning the Le Mans 24 Hours twice in 2018 and 2019 respectively and competed in the Dakar Rally earlier this year. He also competed for the second time in IndyCar last year with the newly established McLaren team but failed to qualify after what the team described as a series of organisational failures. He is due to compete in IndyCar for the third time in August 2020.
In F1, Alonso's career is what legends are made of. The driver has won 32 Grand Prix in his career and is placed sixth on the all-time iconic drivers' list. Apart from his two world titles, he's been a three-time runner-up in 2007 with McLaren, and in 2010 and 2012 with Ferrari. His last victory in F1 though was the 2013 Spanish GP. Alonso spent his final four years in F1 with McLaren, which was a frustrating show of coordination between the team, car and the driver. However, since Alonso exit, the team has managed to pick up the pace with the new Renault engine (replacing the Honda power mill) showing massive improvement and saw the team finish fourth last season in the constructors' standings. McLaren picked up its first podium finish in years at the Austria GP last weekend.
Alonso has been vocal about winning motorsport's triple crown - the Indy 500, Monaco GP and the Le Mans 24 Hours. He has achieved the latter, which now leaves the Indy 500 and Monaco GP for grabs. Possibly his motivation to return to F1.