Fernando Alonso is arguably the best candidate Renault could hope to sign for the 2021 Formula 1 season, but is a reunion a realistic possibility? 

Alonso being linked with a return to the F1 grid is nothing new and certainly comes as no surprise, given the 2021 driver market erupted last week with the news that Sebastian Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the year. 

It quickly sparked a chain of big moves with Carlos Sainz swiftly appointed as Vettel’s successor at the Scuderia, while Daniel Ricciardo will depart Renault after just two years to join McLaren.

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Ricciardo’s exit is a major blow for Renault and follows a disappointing 2019 campaign in which it lost ground in its recovery bid and saw its stranglehold over F1’s midfield breached by rivals McLaren. 

After a flurry of movement during what is quickly turning into one of the most fascinating 'silly seasons' in recent F1 history, Renault finds itself licking its wounds as it looks to find a suitable replacement for its former statement piece. 

Rumours began within hours of Sainz and Ricciardo’s moves to Ferrari and McLaren being confirmed, and Alonso’s name was soon linked with a shock return to Renault. 

The speculation only ramped up further when Renault and Alonso sent fans into a frenzy on social media with a series of nostalgic posts reflecting on their previous shared success.

It appears the situation has since advanced further amid reports that the two parties have held talks about Alonso making a possible comeback with the French outfit which guided him to both of his world championship triumphs. 

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Why would Renault want Alonso? 

First and foremost, Alonso is the best available driver on the market that Renault has a realistic chance of getting. 

There is no doubting his remarkable talent and his tally of 32 grand prix victories and two world championship titles in F1 speaks for itself. 

Alonso and Renault have history, having successfully put an end to Ferrari’s dominance of the early 2000s by dethroning Michael Schumacher when the combination secured back-to-back world championship doubles in 2005 and 2006. 

The headline-grabbing statement of signing a driver of Alonso’s calibre and star power would also soften the blow of Ricciardo’s departure and go some way in detracting from talk of the team’s stuttering form, with Renault failing to deliver on its recent targets of closing the gap to F1’s top three teams. 

Alonso has earned himself the tag of being a disruptive character following a spectacular fallout with McLaren boss Ron Dennis amid an explosive intra-team rivalry with Lewis Hamilton in 2007, and through the manner in which he burned bridges at Ferrari and McLaren during the disastrous revival of its partnership with Honda.

But McLaren CEO Zak Brown, who observed the last two years of Alonso’s second spell at McLaren in 2018, believes such a move would be a “no-brainier” for Renault. 

“I spoke with him [Alonso] the other day and I was kinda poking around,” Brown told Sky Sports F1. 

“I think he’s undecided, and if I was running Renault, that’s who I’d put in the car: big name, fast as anyone, won two championships with them, so he’s got history. So, from a Renault perspective I think he’s a bit of a no-brainer to put in.”

What’s in it for Alonso? 

Arguably the bigger, more pressing question is what is in it for Alonso? 

After his recent success outside of F1 in winning the Le Mans 24 Hours twice and claiming the World Endurance Championship title as part of his ongoing quest to become the second driver in history to complete motorsports ‘triple crown’, why would Alonso return to grand prix racing when he realistically has no chance of winning. 

Alonso clearly did not enjoy squabbling in F1’s midfield fight last time around, and there was little sign of vast improvement from Renault in winter testing (certainly not enough to prevent Ricciardo from jumping ship). 

The Spaniard quit F1 at the end of 2018 with a solid reputation intact as one of the finest drivers of his generation and all-time. Returning to Renault will provide him with little hope of sealing that third championship crown which has eluded him to date. 

Although a third stint at Renault might be seen as a gamble in many regards, for a man who is currently enjoying satisfying his competitive itch by racing almost anything he can get his hands on, there is arguably no harm in having one last hurrah in F1. 

The forthcoming overhaul to the technical regulations in 2022 is set to level the playing field and could provide Renault the opportunity it needs to return to its former days of competitiveness, while the re-hiring of technical chief Pat Fry - who was responsible for the design of McLaren’s much-improved MCL34 - acts another boost for the French squad. 

After much hinting about a potential comeback, Alonso’s main adviser and manager, Flavio Briatore, says the two-time world champion is now “motivated” and “ready to return” to F1. 

Will it happen? 

This is a story that is likely to rumble but the reality of the situation is that an Alonso-Renault reunion remains in the balance. 

It is understood a final decision has not been made by Renault and the team is expected to take time considering its options for who will partner Esteban Ocon in 2021. 

The nature of such a deal would command some caution financially given the current climate caused by the COVID-19 crisis, though Renault will cut some of its wage bill through Ricciardo’s departure and after replacing Nico Hulkenberg with Ocon. 

A comeback for Alonso at Renault ultimately hinges on whether the French manufacturer remains committed to the championship following a “deep review” into all aspects of its business. 

Doubts over Renault’s participation in F1 beyond 2020 had already begun long before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc upon the 2020 schedule and any decision to pull out would naturally put paid to Alonso returning with the team that ignited his F1 career. 

While uncertainty remains, a return - even in the twilight of his career - would undoubtedly mark another exciting chapter in the Alonso-F1 story.