Fernando Alonso has "detoxed" while away from Formula One and is ready to return in 2021, according to manager Flavio Briatore.
Two-time world champion Alonso left F1 at the end of 2018, but Spanish media outlets have suggested he is in talks to replace McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo at Renault next year. The Ricciardo move was made possible when Ferrari confirmed it will not renew Sebastian Vettel's contract, signing McLaren driver Carlos Sainz instead.
Alonso left F1 after four years without a podium finish for McLaren. At the time he said there was no desire to return unless he could be guaranteed a winning car. He has turned his sights to the Dakar Rally and completing the Triple Crown -- he is set to contest the Indy 500 this year.
Briatore says Alonso's time away from F1 has done wonders for the Spaniard's desire to make a comeback.
"Fernando is motivated," Briatore told Gazzetta dello Sport. "A year out of Formula One has done him good. He has detoxed himself and I see him more serene and ready to return."
Briatore says he understands Ferrari's decision to continue without Vettel. He likened the Vettel-Charles Leclerc dynamic to the one Alonso had with Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, when they infamously allowed Kimi Raikkonen to snatch the title at the final race of the season.
"In F1 it has always been about having the winning recipe," Briatore said. "You must have one driver who is focused on the world championship and the other who collects big points, snatching them from rivals.
"Vettel paid for the fact that a very fast boy [Sainz] arrived at the team. It surprised him and the team, as happened at McLaren with Hamilton. Two drivers at the same level in a team eventually risk taking points off each other."
Alonso's options are limited and Renault seems the only likely destination. Shortly after the Sainz and Ricciardo news was announced last week, Alonso teased a photo of a grandstand at the Spanish Grand Prix full of people wearing the blue and yellow colours of the Renault cars he drove to his titles in 2005 and 2006.
As for Vettel, retirement seems the most logical decision at this stage.
Mercedes is yet to extend Hamilton's contract beyond 2020, but talks are at an advanced stage and appear to be a formality at this stage. Team boss Toto Wolff prefers a harmonious atmosphere and is likely to pick between existing driver Valtteri Bottas and junior prospect George Russell for the other 2021 seat.