Renault based its climb back to the front of the pack around its star driver Daniel Ricciardo.
But when after two seasons with Renault he decided to move to McLaren, Renault considered a wide array of replacement drivers including Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel.
But the driver who most impressed the Anglo-French squad was the motivated, hungry and still highly competitive Fernando Alonso. It was a bonus that Alonso drove for Renault from 2003 through ’06 and in 2008 and ’09, and that he won the world championship with the team in 2005 and ’06.
“I have principles and ambitions in line with the team’s project,” Alonso said of his return. “Their progress this winter gives credibility to the objectives for the 2022 season. I will share all my racing experience with everyone from the engineers to the mechanics and my teammates. The team wants and has the means to get back on the podium, as do I.”
Alonso has no fears about being rusty when he gets back into an F-1 car. He points out that between Indy cars, the World Endurance Championship, IMSA and the Dakar Rally he had a steering wheel in his hands almost every weekend until the pandemic brought racing to a halt.
Age – Alonso will be 40 next year – is also not a concern. Alonso has been training hard.
“We did a couple of fitness tests recently,” he revealed, “and had the best results ever in my career. So I’m extremely motivated, happy and stronger than ever.”
Renault might give Alonso some outings in a 2018 F-1 car, but there are no plans to have him drive the current car in some Friday morning practice sessions on grand prix weekends.
Ricciardo was asked if he would be willing to give up his car in free practice one to help Alonso get back into the F-1 groove.
“He doesn’t need any help!” Ricciardo replied. “It doesn’t look like he has slowed down at all with age.”
Alonso is realistic about Renault’s immediate competitive potential. The team has not had a podium finish since it returned to F-1 in 2016. Mercedes, meanwhile, has dominated. But Alonso hopes that the major changes in the 2022 technical regulations will even things out.
“I know only one team will probably win in 2020 and 2021,” he said. “The 2022 rules will hopefully bring some fairness to the sport and bring some close action with the teams more level. There is enough time to work on those projects and to build the momentum that we need.”