UPDATE: Official press release from Renault confirming Alonso's return can be read after the jump.
Emerging reports confirm that Fernando Alonso has signed a two-year contract with the Renault F1 Team, with which he won a pair of world titles before defecting to a tumultuous and disappointing year with McLaren.
The contract, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, will make Alonso one of the top-paid drivers currently in F1 at a staggering $50 million per season (According to the Wikipedia, Kimi Räikkönen makes $51 million/year). The deal is also reported to include minimal obligations towards Renault's sponsors, an exit clause should Alonso wish to terminate early, and clear, defined #1 status for Alonso over his team-mate.
That role, according to the reports, is set to be taken up by Nelson Piquet, Jr., who will be filling the #2 spot at Renault. The news subsequently leaves current drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen without confirmed rides for next season, fuelling speculation that Kovalainen could take up Alonso's now-vacant seat at McLaren, especially since news broke of Nico Rosberg's renewal at Williams.
The official announcement from Renault is anticipated shortly, and Alonso is expected to begin testing next year's Renault car at his native Spain's Valencia test track late in January.
ING Renault F1 Team announces 2008 driver line-up
The ING Renault F1 Team is pleased to announce a competitive driver duo for the 2008 Formula 1 season. Next year, double world champion Fernando Alonso will drive alongside Brazilian rookie Nelson Piquet Jr. They will be supported by Frenchman Romain Grosjean, reigning 2007 F3 Euroseries Champion and a product of Renault's driver development scheme, in the role of test driver.
"Fernando and Nelsinho will form one of the most exciting driver line up of 2008," commented Renault F1 Team Managing Director Flavio Briatore. "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. What's more, he knows the team well and how we operate; he will feel comfortable straight away in this environment. Nelsinho is one of the most promising young talents in motorsport. After his success in GP2, he has spent a year learning the ropes as our test driver and getting to know the team ; he is now ready to step up to the next level."
ING Renault F1 Team President Bernard Rey commented: "The entire team has been working flat out over the past months to return to the front of the field, and a top-line driver line-up is essential to achieving our targets. Our recent technology investments, the return of Fernando Alonso to the team, and the promotion of Nelsinho Piquet, all signal our intent to return to winning ways next year. Renault is also delighted to welcome a talented, young
Frenchman to the team as test driver."
Fernando Alonso rejoins the Renault F1 Team after spending the 2007 season at McLaren-Mercedes. Alonso drove for the Renault F1 Team between 2003 and 2006, during which time he scored 15 Grand Prix victories and won two world championships, in 2005 and 2006. He will play a key role in the team's efforts to return to the front of the field in 2008.
"I am delighted to be returning to Renault," commented the 26 year-old Spaniard. "This is the team where I grew up as a driver in Formula 1. 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 has real strength in depth. I am confident they can produce a fast and competitive car and be back at the top in 2008."
Nelson Piquet Jr will complete the team's race driver line-up. The 22 year-old Brazilian spent 2007 as the Renault F1 Team's test and reserve driver, after finishing runner-up in the 2006 GP2 series championship. He will make his F1 debut at the 2008 Australian Grand Prix.
"First of all, I want to thank Flavio and Renault for putting their confidence in me for 2008,"commented Nelsinho. "It is a fantastic opportunity to make my Formula 1 debut with one of the top teams on the grid, and alongside one of the very best drivers in the sport. This drive is something I have been working towards since the end of 2006, and I am proud that my performances as test driver have earned me this position. I am looking forward to teaming
up with Fernando, and learning from him. As a rookie, there is no better way to start your career than to have a double world champion as your reference point."
The team's 2008 challenger, the Renault R28, will run for the first time at a three-day teams test in Valencia, Spain from 22 – 24 January. The car will be officially launched at Renault's corporate communications headquarters in Paris, France on Thursday 31 January 2008.