At the eleventh hour, the French team split with the controversial contracted driver Pastor Maldonado, and new racing director Frederic Vasseur said Dane Magnussen was the “obvious choice”.
“I don’t know much about the background of everything that happened,” Magnussen is quoted by the Spanish sports newspaper Marca, “but for me to be here now is a surprise. A very pleasant one!”
Still just 23, Magnussen debuted for McLaren in 2014 but was sidelined to the reserve bench last year before falling out completely with team supremo Ron Dennis.
Now, he is keeping his expectations low as Renault builds back up following the near Lotus collapse.
“It’s hard to predict where I will be on Saturday in Australia,” Magnussen said.
“Let’s just go to Barcelona, try to make the best of what we have and then we’ll see what can be done.”
Teammate and rookie Jolyon Palmer agreed that, while Renault is playing down its chances at least initially, it is impossible to set any targets now.
“Only when we actually get in the car will we see if we can aspire to be top 5, top 10 or top 15,” said the Briton.
“I don’t expect an easy season, because Lotus was a bit of a mess. For us it’s more about the long-term.”
Magnussen agrees, saying that while Renault will not be immediate winners, he knows he is in the right place.
“There are only three teams in formula one who build everything themselves: Ferrari, Mercedes and now Renault,” he told the Danish broadcaster TV2.
“But first it is really starting from scratch. They are taking over a new factory and while the engines have been running for some years, they have had problems and may not yet have gotten them the way they want them.
“But this is somewhere where I can be world champion, and that’s what it’s all about,” he added.