Alonso returns to Renault as No 1 driver for 2008

Almost two years to the day he informed team principal Flavio Briatore that he would be leaving to join McLaren-Mercedes for 2007, the former world champion Fernando Alonso was confirmed yesterday as the Renault team's lead driver for 2008.

The announcement follows weeks of speculation, and last week's decision by the World Motor Sport Council in Monaco not to apply any penalty to the team even though they were deemed to have been in possession of intellectual property stolen (from McLaren).

Alonso's return is bad news for Renault's 2007 drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen. The former is in the frame at Force India, where Tonio Liuzzi is favourite to get the nod over a driver seen to be well past his best, while following the news that Nico Rosberg has inked a new deal with Williams, Kovalainen remains a strong potential candidate for the McLaren seat alongside Lewis Hamilton.

Alonso will thus be partnered by Nelson Piquet Jnr, 22, son of the former triple champion, with the Frenchman Romain Grosjean, the 2007 F3 Euroseries champion, taking over the Brazilian's testing role.

"Fernando and Nelsinho [Piquet Jnr] will form one of the most exciting driver line-ups of 2008," Briatore said. "We are delighted to be welcoming Fernando back home to the team where he enjoyed his greatest success. His abilities as a driver and a team leader are well known, and we look forward to forging another strong partnership. He knows the team well and how we operate; he will feel comfortable straight away in this environment."

"I am delighted to be returning to Renault," Alonso, 26, said. "This is the team where I grew up as a driver in Formula One. Now it is time for us to begin a new chapter together. I am very excited about working with this great team once more, and confident that together we can move back to the front of the field. Renault had a difficult year in 2007, but I know that the team have real strength in depth."

No term for Alonso's new contract has been given, but it is thought to be for one year only as sources are adamant he has a Ferrari contract from 2009. Speaking of the delay while negotiations continued, he said: "The first three weeks of November, I was on a much-needed vacation during which I disconnected from Formula One. The decision to choose a team did not take more than a week, as me and the people close to me were clear about what we wanted.

"To tell you the truth, we do know it's not easy. I'm one of the 22 privileged people who get to drive a Formula One car each year and I'm even more privileged to be one of those who can afford to leave one great team and end up in another great team. The decision hasn't been an easy one to make. I chose Renault in the end considering their commitment to the sport and because of their strong track record," Alonso added.