Fernando Alonso revealed that his first offer to return to Formula One came after a handful of races away from the sport, but he turned down the opportunity as it would have clashed with his plans for this year.
On Wednesday, Renault announced it had signed Alonso on a two-year deal that will start in 2021 and see him replace McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo on the team. Alonso last raced in Formula One at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2018 but claims an offer to return in 2020 had already been made by the early stages of the 2019 season.
"The first offers came in 2019," he told Spanish publication Cope. "I left Formula One in 2018 and I received the first offers in the fourth or fifth race of the year in 2019.
"Formula One is like football, when a race goes wrong or a driver makes a very serious mistake, there is already some tension. The leaders of the teams often make calls to sound out other drivers who are outside F1 and see how the situation is.
"We had some calls that year to race in 2020, but it was not in our plans to drive that year."
Alonso took part in the Dakar Rally at the start of this year and is due to race at the Indy 500 with McLaren next month. He had originally hoped an F1 return in 2021 would coincide with the arrival of a new rules package aimed at levelling the playing field among teams, but F1 decided to delay the regulation change to 2022 to ease the financial pressure on teams resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
He revealed that the first talks with Renault started at the final race of the 2019 season, but that reports he might replace Ricciardo midseason this year were incorrect.
"The first conversation with Renault was in Abu Dhabi last year, in November of last year," he said. "The open door that I had left in 2018 was [to return with] the new regulations in 2021. They were delayed for a year due to the coronavirus and well, that left the door open to think again or put everything on the table. In the end I decided that I want to return, that I am strong and motivated to do it next year.
"Two or three weeks ago we already agreed [to make the announcement this week]. Last week there was a report saying that I could replace Ricciardo this year because we got along badly but it was simply impossible that I could drive in 2020. I had no intention, nor the team. It was false.
"Since the Dakar there have been a lot of speculations, claiming that I was going to return to Ferrari, to Renault. Someone was going to be right sooner or later. I was calm and I think that it has to come when things had to be and I'm happy that the day has come."
He revealed that he had not held talks with world champions Mercedes at any point, despite both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas being out of contract at the end of the year.
"I had no offers from Mercedes, which is the team that everyone would sign with their eyes closed because you have an immediate winning car, but I had one from Renault, which has the commitment and the desire to be great. That Renault will be great again will depend on us, but I think it is exciting."