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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 21:38 GMT
Alonso's happy homecoming

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Paris

Fernando Alonso
Alonso is back with Renault after a difficult time at McLaren
There was a distinct sense of deja vu at the launch of Renault's new R28 car in Paris.

Last year's pre-season hot topic was how the team would cope without double world champion Fernando Alonso, who had joined McLaren.

Remarkably, just one year on, Alonso is back in the fold and the centre of attention once again.

But what is the prodigal son returning to find at Renault after a bruising season with Ron Dennis's team?

"He's not a son," laughs Renault team principal Flavio Briatore. "I'm too young to have a son, he is more like a friend returning."

Alonso is certainly back amongst familiar faces at the team who gave him his first Grand Prix win in Hungary, 2003, and where he says he grew up in F1.

"I'm happy to be home," he says. "The first day back it seemed as though time had not moved on from 2006."

The reality is, since Alonso left Renault, after winning his second world title with the French team, a lot has changed for both of them.

The Spaniard struggled to cope with an intense rivalry both on and off the track with his rookie team-mate, Briton Lewis Hamilton, at McLaren.

They finished tied on points behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, with Hamilton second on a countback of second-place finishes.

The pair's relationship deteriorated as the season wore on and so did Alonso's relationship with Dennis.

606: DEBATE
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Alonso's threat to reveal incriminating emails about McLaren's knowledge of confidential Ferrari data eventually led to the team being stripped of all their points in the constructors' championship and fined 50m.

"I have no regrets about 2007," insists Alonso, who resolutely refuses to talk about Hamilton during interviews.

"I was able to fight for the championship so I was in the right place. The difficulties of last year also made me stronger."

Renault also endured a difficult 2007 with a car Briatore described as a "disaster".

A problematic front-end design and the team's struggle to adapt to the required Bridgestone tyres left them trailing Ferrari and McLaren.

But if last season was a backwards step for Alonso and Renault, the tentative hope from both is that reuniting can make them stronger.

"I'm a better driver than I was two years ago and I can take advantage of seeing something new (at McLaren)," said Alonso. "I am here to put Renault back in the fight."

Fernando Alonso and Flavio Briatore
We are able to fight to win races, but I always want more - to win the championship

Fernando Alonso

It is Alonso's battling attitude that also appeals to Briatore as he seeks to get his team back on the podium, at the very least, in 2008.

"We have a world champion back with us," he said. "And I have zero worries about his motivation."

Pre-season testing of the new Renault has been encouraging, but the car is still off the pace of McLaren and Ferrari.

For the first time in four seasons, Alonso could be facing a frustrating campaign without a title battle to spur him on.

But the Spaniard, who has been linked with a future move to Ferrari, appears content to bide his time for now.

"The car is not competitive enough but in a way it is better than expected so I have mixed feelings," said the 26-year-old.

"The main expectation is to close the gap on McLaren and Ferrari, but it will be extremely difficult to recover that one-second gap in just two months.

"But we will fight for podiums and then the races and if I can win a championship with Renault again it will be a dream come true."

A return to Renault may not offer Alonso a shot at a third world crown in the short-term but what they can offer is something he found hard to find at McLaren - a sense of belonging.

Fernando Alonso in the new Renault R28
Alonso has been testing in the Renault R28 for the last month

And it seems that it was this that saw Alonso reject the overtures of Red Bull, Toyota and Honda and sign a two-year deal with Renault.

"We had the advantage because I know Fernando very well," said Briatore. "After McLaren, he wanted to feel settled and to feel good. We had a lot of competition, but Fernando chose what he knew best.

"You need to understand the human part of the driver; to make sure there is some fun in the job.

"To see Fernando enjoying racing again and to see him smiling is more important than anything."

Alonso agrees: "I knew Renault was the (right) choice. It was a safe option for me. They have always supported and respected me and I am happy here."

There is of course another reason why Alonso is likely to feel at home, though both Briatore and Alonso skirted the issue in Paris.

The Spaniard will be the de facto number one driver ahead of rookie Nelson Piquet - a status he was not afforded at McLaren.

"There is nothing in the contract, nothing strange," says Alonso. "But they will put new parts in my car first and that's something I feel comfortable with.

"And I know Flavio will help the driver who has more possibilities."

Questions remain over what the possibilities are for Alonso in 2008, but one thing is for sure - the Spaniard is focused on the future and not the past.

When asked if he wished he had stayed at Renault rather than endure a turbulent season at McLaren, the answer was an abrupt "No."

"The past is the past so everything is closed. My past with Renault is also closed. Now, I have to move forward."



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Alonso opts for return to Renault
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