Daniel Ricciardo is off to McLaren. Picture: David Caird
Daniel Ricciardo is off to McLaren. Picture: David Caird

Ricciardo replaced with ‘blockbuster name’

Fernando Alonso is set to return to Formula 1 as Daniel Ricciardo's replacement at Renault for the 2021 season.

It is understood that an official announcement confirming the news is set for this week.

After two seasons off the grid, the 38-year-old Alonso will rejoin Renault for a third stint at the Enstone team where he won his two world titles in 2005-2006.

Alonso, one of the most successful, determined yet controversial stars of recent F1 history, will partner Esteban Ocon in 2021 with Ricciardo already signed by McLaren.

"Fernando Alonso picks a car up and carries it, and so is very exciting to watch," Sky Sports expert Martin Brundle said. "He does turn 39 on the 29th of this month and we've got a lot of young kids in there at the moment in their early 20s getting the job done. We thought there was a changing of the guard, and we were losing the older drivers.

"He will certainly drive the wheels off it, but whether the car is fast enough and whether he's still got the pace to match the youngsters now remains to be seen. But I suspect he'll have the pace.

"Fernando is pretty hot to handle, he's a tough cookie to have around, but I think he'll come back highly motivated and it's going to be fascinating. Where does he stand up against the likes of Verstappen and Leclerc if, indeed, he's got a car to go up against them?"

He’s back. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
He’s back. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

THE RETURN OF AN F1 ICON - AND A BOOST FOR RENAULT

Alonso left McLaren at the end of 2018 after four disappointing and often-turbulent seasons and walked away from the F1 grid to pursue other racing disciplines, including the Indianapolis 500 and World Endurance Championship - where he became a world champion again, with Toyota.

The Spaniard is making a third attempt at Indy with McLaren's new full-time team at the rescheduled Brickyard race in August. A win at Indianapolis would mean Alonso becomes just the second driver after Graham Hill to claim the Triple Crown of victories at the Monaco GP, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indy 500.

But he has never fully shut the door on an F1 comeback, despite turning 39 later this month and already competing in more than 300 grands prix since his debut aged 19 with Minardi in 2001.

Alonso has won 32 grands prix across three teams - Renault, McLaren and Ferrari - but found himself thwarted in attempts to win a third world crown, coming within a handful of points in each of 2007, 2010 and 2012.

He last won a race and finished on the podium in 2013.

 

The signing of the two-time world champion will act as an important boost for Renault's F1 project after seven-time race winner and current team leader Ricciardo in May opted to switch to rivals McLaren for next season.

Renault, who slipped to fifth in last year's Constructors' Championship after a promising fourth-place finish the year before, have reiterated their F1 commitment in recent weeks and are targeting the introduction of a budget cap in 2021 and the delayed technical overhaul in 2022 to close the gap on the top three teams.

Alonso's return will also end speculation that Sebastian Vettel, dropped by Ferrari for 2021 to make way for McLaren's Carlos Sainz, could join the team next to Ocon.

Kimi Raikkonen is currently F1's oldest driver at 40, with the Finn taking his own two-year F1 'sabbatical' earlier in his career.

- Sky Sports

Originally published as Ricciardo replaced with 'blockbuster name'


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