Reports in the British media suggest former double Formula 1 World Champions Renault are close to finalising a $20m-a-year (?9.6m) deal that would see Fernando Alonso return to the French squad next year.

Until now the major sticking point over an agreement between the two parties had been Renault boss Flavio Briatore's wish to tie the Spaniard down to a multi-year contract with the Regie, and Alonso's conflicting desire to sign on the dotted line for one year only, as he eyes a potential switch to Ferrari in 2009.

According to British daily newspaper The Guardian, however, sources suggest the flamboyant Italian is working on a sponsorship deal with a consortium including Spanish mobile phone network Telefonica that might convince his former charge to change his mind.

Spanish newspaper Expansion, meanwhile, claims Bristaore is also in talks with Telmex, a telecommunications company owned by one of the richest men in the world, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim.

Alonso previously raced for Renault from 2003 until 2006, clinching two world drivers' titles with the Enstone-based concern. Should he indeed return, as the paddock rumours persist, he would likely be partnered by current test-driver Nelson Piquet Jnr, whose father - three-time world champion Nelson Piquet Snr - drive for Briatore at Benetton back in the early 1990s.

Piquet Jnr would take the place of Giancarlo Fisichella, who has allegedly been told there is no position left for him in the team - a move that could well spell the end of the Italian's twelve-year career in the top flight, one that has yielded three victories, 18 podium finishes and 267 points. Heikki Kovalainen is widely viewed as the favourite to step into Alonso's boots at McLaren in 2008, alongside Lewis Hamilton.

"Our primary objective is to go out and win races," asserted Renault's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, as the squad bids to fight back following a dispiriting 2007 campaign. "One can never be satisfied with a season like we've had.

"We've been rigorous, we've been honest with ourselves and we've done everything in very logical steps, so that we now approach building a 2008 car with a certain knowledge of what went wrong in 2007 - and therefore high in confidence that we can get back challenging at the front again."

Aside from the promise of a markedly more competitive car than this year's unloved R27, Alonso would also benefit from a ready familiarity at Renault following his previous stint at Enstone - a period when he felt a good deal more comfortable and at home than he ever did during his torrid sole season at McLaren, according to Briatore.

"Alonso has always had some unfavourable conditions," the 57-year-old told Italian magazine Autosprint. "That would never have happened with us, because we work in complete transparency. When (Riccardo) Patrese or (JJ) Letho lamented their car being slower than (Michael) Schumacher's, I would tell the team 'give him that car, change the pedals and put him on the track'.

"We over-estimate drivers. They are 20 or 25-years-old, and we expect them to always behave like mature people. We must take the human aspect more into consideration. They fall into situations that are bigger than them and sometimes we don't help them, but Fernando never had problems with us."



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