The 2023 Formula One driver lineup should have been a relatively simple affair with the top teams having locked in their drivers until at least the start of 2024. However, Alpine assumed Alonso would stay for another year but the Spanish double world champion had other ideas. The result has been a major shlep of who will be where for the coming season.
Having lost two drivers in 2 days, Alpine hold the key to how the dominoes fall elsewhere. Their priority has been to recruit under contract Pierre gassy from Red Bull, however Christian Horner made it clear he would only be released if the FIA rant American driver Colton Herta a super license.
Herta has not accumulated enough points under the FIA’s antiquated scoring system and will probably fail to make the cut.
The week before the Italian GP Alpine’s boss, Otmar Szafnauer revealed the French team had a ‘shortlist’ of 14 drivers, however today it appears that list has been cut to just 3 possible recruits.
Alpine’s CEO Laurent Rossi has been conspicuous by his absence since the loss of Alonso and academy driver Oscar Piastri but he now claims the team is close to a decision on who will partner Esteban Ocon in 2023.
“We need to find a driver that’s capable of scoring big points right away,” reveals Rossi
“This basically leads us towards a more senior driver if you will, but at the same that is capable to grow with us. So those are the criteria we use at the moment.
“Otmar [Szafnauer] is leading the process: seeing all of the drivers discussing with them, assessing options, assessing them here, potentially assessing them in tests. So I guess it’s going to be a process that is going to last a little bit.
“We want to make the right decision and there’s no hurry.”
Jack Doohan has recently been impressing in Formula 2 and the paddock rumours in Monza suggested he was in the frame for the Alpine seat. Doohan took pole in Italy for the feature race held before the Italian GP.
On Doohan’s chances of making the cut, Rossi explained.
“Jack certainly has a very good sense of timing, because he’s performing immensely at the moment.
“To be honest, we knew already he was very fast, the raw speed he has, but he has gained in maturity a lot. It shows on the track, but also off track. I mean, the conversations we have are very impressive. I think something clicked; he made a step, which is really good.”
Yet Doohan appears to be scheduled for the path Alpine were hoping to place Oscar Piastri upon which means no drive for Alpine next season.
“Irrespective of his value, we still believe that the best path for a young driver is to potentially go in a team where you have a bit of less pressure to deliver,” Rossi continued.
Young drivers entering F1 face a steep learning curve and for a while are often more of a liability than an asset as Rossi explains.
“I’d rather have him damage his first wing somewhere else; find his limits in a new car, because the step is big from an F2 to an F1.
“It’s what everyone does elsewhere. That’s why George [Russell], despite his amazing talents, same pedigree, and Charles [Leclerc] as well, they need to basically hone their skills in a big machine that is much faster than the F2 for a year or two. So that’s the plan for Jack.
“That’s not to say we’re not considering him, because his run of form is impressive. So we’re looking at him.
“But again, we are still keeping in mind the main criteria, which is being ready to score points right away, and help us continue growing by developing the car.
“So we need someone who’s capable of showing the way alongside Esteban. We can’t develop a car on only one side of the garage.”
Rossi going public on the ‘main criteria’ being an experienced driver suggests there is possible dissent within the Alpine management about how to conclude their driver recruitment.
This marker now means probably just 3 drivers are now probable to join Ocon at the French badged team.
Pierre Gasly is the preferred choice, but that is out of Alpine’s hands.
Daniel Ricciardo is available having been sacked from McLaren a year before his contract expires. However, Ricciardo left the team when branded as Renault in 2020 under somewhat of a cloud.
That said, the management of the Enstone based team as changed since then, so grudges may be set aside more easily and Ricciardo is likely to be the cheapest option too – given McLaren paid him up his $12m owed under contract for 2023.
The final realistic experienced driver choice is Nico Hulkenberg. ‘The Hulk’ last raced a full season for the Renault team before being replaced by Esteban Ocon.
Over the past three seasons, Nico has deputised in 4 races for Aston Martin/Racing Point. Most recently at the beginning of this season for Vettel who was well with Covid.
He finished ahead of established driver Lance Stroll in his second outing in Saudi Arabia.
Hulkenberg has famously never made the podium in his 181 GP starts, but he and Ricciardo now remain favourites to fill the seat at Alpine for a season until Pierre Gasly is out of contract with Red Bull in 2024.