Like the majority of mere mortals, Fernando Alonso was back at work after the New Year but, unlike that majority, he was in different surroundings to those with which he saw out the old year, having finally been freed from his McLaren contract.

Prevented from reuniting with Renault until the start of 2008, despite his deal being announced as long ago as 10 December, the Spaniard will have a little catching up to do as he prepares for the forthcoming F1 campaign, but expects to quickly be on the same page as the designers and engineers with whom he will work this year. According to reports, he saw the plans for the R28 before committing to the regie, and has already spoken to those working on the car, which is slowly taking shape at the team's Enstone base.

Without a title to chase last season, and hence no distractions to its pre-season preparations, Renault hopes to begin the 2008 campaign running, although its car is not expected to hit the track until later this month. In the meantime, Alonso will be at the factory to help develop systems and tailor the cockpit to his specifications.

The R28 is due to run for the first time on 22 January, although Alonso will have returned to Renault colours at least a week earlier, when he tests the updated R27 chassis for the first time. With driver aids and electronics restricted or removed for 2008, the Spaniard will run without traction control to allow himself to get to grips with the altered characteristics of the car before he takes the new model for its first spin.

The R28 is due to be officially unveiled in Paris on 31 January, when Nelson Piquet Jr will make his bow as an official race driver with the team. F3 Euroseries champion Romain Grosjean will be on stage as the new reserve and test driver, but the R28 is expected to appear in familiar colours to 2007, albeit with a few new names and a different livery gracing the bodywork.

While financial giant ING will again headline the sponsors, others re rumoured to be signing up thanks to Alonso's return, with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu - now reported to be the richest man in the world thanks to his telecoms interests - tipped to bring one of his companies on board. Spanish insurance company Mutua Madrilena is already rumoured to be following Alonso from McLaren back to Renault, while national bank BBVA and telecoms brand Movistar may also join up as the double world champion aims to add to the 15 race wins and 37 podiums he achieved with the regie.

 

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