Fernando Alonso says he will return to Formula One in 2021 in the best form of his life thanks to the experience he has gained away from the championship.
Alonso stepped away from F1 in 2018 midway through a World Endurance Championship campaign with Toyota, which saw him win that title and win the famous Le Mans 24 Hours. At the start of this year he made his debut in the Dakar Rally, while he has also raced at the Daytona 24 Hours.
Alonso will return to F1 next year with Renault, replacing Daniel Ricciardo.
"At a sporting level I think I am a much better driver than I was in 2018 when I said goodbye to Formula One," Alonso said to Spanish radio station Cope. "Simply because of the number of cars I have driven, the number of experiences I have had to live, racing in Daytona, the running at night without visibility, running the Dakar, running Le Mans ...
"Many of the challenges I have faced required a style of driving and requirements that were totally new for me and outside my comfort zone. This has made me learn many things from scratch and also improve my different driving styles to the needs of a racing car. I think I come back more complete than I was before."
Alonso also contested the Indy 500 in 2017, although he failed to qualify for the event in 2019. He will return to the famous race in August in his attempt to complete motor racing's unofficial Triple Crown -- he needs the Indy 500 to go alongside his wins at the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours.
Alonso has targeted 2022 as his chance of winning the third F1 title that has eluded him since he won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006. Although Renault is a solid midfield team now, he is confident the team can compete by then, with a sweeping change to the cars set to come into play for that season.
"Everyone can [win], but in the short term they cannot. I am very aware of the situation now," he said.
"These cars that are running now are the ones that are going to run next year, with the delay of the new regulation to 2022, what Formula One has done is reduce costs. I am aware of the things that will come in 2021, of the difficulties that lie ahead, but also of the beautiful and exciting challenge of trying to improve and create a good atmosphere ahead of 2022 in the team.
"In 2003-2004 I already experienced that with Renault. Although Ferrari was winning and had a large domain, in Renault you could see the desire and you could see details that everyone wanted to go to win a possible championship. Hopefully I can live that transition, but I am aware of the difficulty of next year because we are going to have the same cars that are running now."