Given Formula One is the pinnacle of globe motorsport and the teams employ space age technology designs and production processes to produce a prototype car each year, you would think they are pretty competent all round. However, this is regularly not the case. At the Hungarian GP Alpine Esteban Ocon locked down with a contract for 2023 and Alonso available for a contract extension to his present deal which expires in November this year.
They also had an academy driver in whom they’ve invested plenty of time and money who was looking to make the step into Formula One, F2 2021 champion Oscar Piastri.
Within 48 hours of the chequered flag in Budapest, Alpine now have egg on their face. Fernando Alonso declared he was leaving the team yesterday.
Alpine’s team boss Otmar Szafnauer was laconic when recently asked when Fernando’s contract extension for 2023 would be agreed.
“After the summer we should have a conversation and make a decision,” Szafnauer said.
“Because the season lasts so late… back then, when we finished in October, the silly season was a bit earlier. But now we continue not until December but not far. It’s good timing.”
Yet clearly Fernando felt the team were dragging their feet stating before Hungary, “I would like to stay here, But there are two parties and I will not put a gun to the head of anyone.
“Okay, we will open the negotiations. And as I said, you know, if we agree on something, it will be a 10-minute conversation and if we have to fight too much it will be [a little bit] longer.”
In hindsight, this was a last ditch offer from Alonso to conclude the uncertainty over his future.
But Alpine did nothing.
Meanwhile as TJ13 wrote, Aston Martin were ‘mugging’ Alpine.
Knowing that their world champions driver Sebastian Vettel was about to retire, the Aston management requested the German hold off until they could secure his replacement. Clearly they negotiated a deal over the weeks prior to the Hungarian GP with Alonso and then gave See the go ahead to make his announcement on the Friday morning in Hungary before FP1.
Driver contracts take longer than the period of time from Seb’s retirement disclose and Alonso being announced to replace him 3 days later. Clearly Aston had the deal in the bag before Vettel made his retirement announcement thus mugging Alpine.
Long standing F1 writer Joe Saward adds to the intrigue when he tweeted today, “Maybe (just maybe) Alpine’s option on Piastri ran out midnight on Sunday (as did Alonso’s). At which point Alpine thought Alonso was staying on…. Nine hours later Alonso announced his deal with Aston Martin.”
So Fernando desperate to stay in F1 had a deal lined up with Aston Martin in case Alpine did not take up the option to extend his contract.
Clearly Alonso was very unhappy over Alpine’s complacency and lack of urgency and he demonstrated this by not telling Alpine he was leaving.
Otmar Szafnauer said he was shocked when he read Aston Martin’s announcement on Monday that they’d recruited his driver.
“It was the first confirmation I had,” he said, when asked by Motorsport.com about how he discovered Alonso has done a deal with Aston Martin.
“Obviously, when we’re in the paddock, there’s all sorts of rumours, and I had heard rumours that Aston were interested.
“But I was confident that, even with the discussions, and there’s nothing wrong with exploring, that we were very close [to agreeing Alonso would stay next year].
The revenge of Alonso was clear as Otmar reveals, “So yes, the first confirmation I had [Alonso was leaving for Aston] was the press release [from Aston].
“I haven’t talked to him, since he’s on a boat, I think, in the Greek Isles somewhere.”
Alonso wickedly posted soon after this statement on social media that he was in fact in his home town of Oviedo, not Greece and “can confirm the mobile signal is just fine”.
The rest of the season inside the F1 Alpine team looks as though it will be spicy.
Alpine then appear to have panicked. Szafnauer revealed he had been calling Oscar Piastri’s manager Mark Webber without result for 24 hours. Webber is currently in Australia which is a long way a way, but hardly beyond the bounds of 21st century communication.
The Webber management PR machine have been trailing for several months that Piastri will have a drive in 2023. Most F1 observers believed this meant he would replace Alonso who was out of contract.
Yet it appears Webber has found his young steed another drive on the grid which will see Piastri leave the Renault junior academy.
In a fit of desperation Alpine chose to announce Oscar Piastri as their 2023 driver 24 hours after being surprised by Alonso’s deal with Aston.
The TJ13 news group noted at the time it was strange there was no Piastri synchronised confirmation forthcoming. Within hours it was plain as to why Piastri was silent and webber unavailable.
I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.
— Oscar Piastri (@OscarPiastri) August 2, 2022
No rookie driver who has never set foot in a Formula One car turns down a drive with a top 5 team like Alpine, so clearly Piastri has a deal elsewhere.
Neither does a rookie driver turn down a team like Alpine to join another significantly lower in the constructors championship. De facto, Piastri has a contract with McLaren.
Zal Brown has been on a mission to sign drivers for the McLaren motorsport team which competes in Indycar aswell as other categories. Recently McLaren signed Alex Palour, Indycar champion winner in 2021, and now Palou is facing an Alpine/Piastri type situation.
Chip Ganassi who Palou races for declared like Alpine they had retained the services of Palou only to be told by the driver he had signed for McLaren Arrows.
A court case now ensues.
One social media pundit posted today, “If you own a race team and see [McLaren’s] Zak Brown talking to your drivers, maybe get a restraining order.”
The question is whether Alonso knew Alpine’s option on Piastri expired at the same time as his and exacted revenge for the team’s refusal to give him new contract by delaying his Aston move until then.
The contrast between how Aston Martin have engineered their exit of their world champion driver Vettel and replacing him with another F1 title winner is masterful. By contrast Alpine just look amateurish.
Of course the Alpine team boss is the ex Aston Martin boss who jumped ship to the French outfit at the end of last season.Otmar Szafnauer revealed to the world having left Aston his reasons were because of a decisions made by the Silverstone team owner Lawrence Stroll.
“Once it became clear over there, that the management structure was going to be such that I didn’t have the influence that I thought I should have, with Martin [Whitmarsh] coming in”.
Whitmarsh is the ex McLaren team boss and was recruited to improve Aston Martin’s fortunes once it was evident Szafnauer wasn’t getting the job done.
So the final matter to be resolved will be Daniel Ricciardo and his contract for 2023. If McLaren’s Zak Brown has signed Piastri as his replacement Fernando has screwed things up rather for the McLaren boss.
Prior to Fernando’s announcement, Brown may well have been looking to move Ricciardo on with a possible contribution from a new employer towards McLaren suffering a breach of contract. Now he has no chance of this and will probably have to pay Ricciardo off.
So as TJ13 wrote yesterday, Ricciardo will inevitably end up at Alpine.
Time for a lie down,. The silly season is way more silly than for some years.