If you asked Alpine Formula 1 team principal Otmar Szafnauer at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix if he’d have two-time champion Fernando Alonso in his car again next year, he would have probably affirmed it with confidence. Yet here we are on Monday, and Alonso has announced he’s headed elsewhere in 2023 — to Aston Martin, where he’ll take the seat that will be vacated by Sebastian Vettel. What happened?
“El Plan” — er, negotiations between Alpine and Alonso — hit a snag, presumably over money as Motorsport.com reported today:
Szafnauer insisted that the big-ticket issues at the heart of a contract (including the length of the deal) were all sorted; and it was only a question of detail. But there was an intriguing pause when he was asked about whether or not money was one of the chief areas that the two parties remained wide apart on.
He responded: “Not just Fernando. Every driver I’ve ever negotiated with, it’s been a question of money. And other things too.
“But yeah, for whatever reason, they want the most money and we want to pay the least. And then we end up in some kind of unhappy place for everyone, or a happy place that everyone’s willing to sign.”
The expectation was that both parties would hash things out over the summer. But then Vettel made his decision public, and Alonso suddenly had a new option.
As Aston Martin is ahead of only Williams in the constructor standings, its 2022 campaign thus far certainly has not met expectations. But the team figures to ramp up investments dramatically throughout the middle of this decade, and that must be relatively attractive to a driver of Alonso’s caliber when Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari are already spoken for. After all, that ambition once convinced Vettel to come on board, too.
So Aston Martin will replace a four-time winner with a two-time one. Here was Alonso’s statement on the news:
“This Aston Martin team is clearly applying the energy and commitment to win, and it is therefore one of the most exciting teams in Formula One today.
“I have known Lawrence and Lance for many years and it is very obvious that they have the ambition and passion to succeed in Formula One.
“I have watched as the team has systematically attracted great people with winning pedigrees, and I have become aware of the huge commitment to new facilities and resources at Silverstone.
“No one in Formula One today is demonstrating a greater vision and absolute commitment to winning, and that makes it a really exciting opportunity for me.”
“I still have the hunger and ambition to fight to be at the front, and I want to be part of an organisation that is committed to learn, develop and succeed.
“We all appreciate that there is much to be done to get to the front, and that we must apply all our energies in working together to find performance.
“The passion and desire to perform that I have witnessed convince me to maintain my enjoyment and commitment to the sport. I intend to win again in this sport and therefore I have to take the opportunities that feel right to me.”
When Alonso announced his return to the sport after two years away, I personally didn’t expect his tenure to last longer than a season or two with his old crew, the team formerly known as Renault. He was getting up there in age for an F1 driver, and he’d already quit once before. Yet here he is, in the twilight days of his career, still making moves. As for Alpine, this surprise departure opens up a lane for 21-year-old phenom and last season’s Formula 2 winner, Oscar Piastri, to be called up from his reserve driver role next season.