Alonso goes back to the future with Renault F1 team

FILE PHOTO: Rallying - Dakar Rally Preview - King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - January 3, 2020 Toyota Gazoo Racing's Fernando Alonso during a press conference REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

(Reuters) - Double world champion Fernando Alonso will make a Formula One comeback at the age of 39 next year with Renault, the team he won his titles with, after two seasons out of the sport.

The French manufacturer announced the Spaniard's return on Wednesday, with the 32-times race winner set to partner 23-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon at the team that finished fifth last season.

The two-times Le Mans 24 Hours endurance winner and former Ferrari driver, who turns 39 this month, secured his championships in 2005 and 2006 and most recently raced for McLaren in 2018.

"Renault is my family, my fondest memories in Formula One with my two World Championship titles, but I’m now looking ahead," he said in a team statement that did not say how long the deal was for. .

"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."

Alonso's third stint at Renault, after also racing for them in 2008 and 2009 after a fiery 2007 season with McLaren, closes another door to four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel faces an uncertain future after Ferrari announced the German would leave at the end of the year and be replaced by Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who grew up with Alonso as his role model.

Alonso will be the oldest driver in Formula One if Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen, now 40, does not continue for another season.

"I have principles and ambitions in line with the team’s project," Alonso said.

"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."

The Spaniard's return had been the subject of mounting speculation from the moment it was announced Australian Daniel Ricciardo would leave Renault for McLaren at the end of 2020.

That created a vacancy alongside Ocon, who told reporters in Austria last week that he would be keen to race alongside Alonso.

With a typical touch of showmanship, Alonso flagged his move up ahead of the announcement with a video on Instagram accompanied by music to the 1980s Hollywood movie 'Back to the Future'.

Renault's decision to shun younger talent for a veteran who made his debut with Minardi in 2001, when last weekend's Austrian Grand Prix podium finisher Lando Norris was still a toddler, was seen by some as a backwards step.

Others, however, welcomed the return of one of the sport's true characters whose skill and passion ranks him among the all-time greats.

"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," said Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul.

Formula One chief executive Chase Carey said the Spaniard's return was 'great news'.

"He is an incredible talent and we can’t wait to have him back on the grid in 2021," he added.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Boyle and Christian Radnedge)

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