Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin is a loss for Alpine’s Formula 1 team, but it also solves a problem.
A contract extension between Fernando Alonso and Alpine seemed to be just a formality in Formula 1. In the past few weeks, both the Spaniard and those in charge of the team had expressed their confidence that things would be resolved quickly.
As recently as Thursday, Alonso said he believed it would only take a 10-minute conversation to sort things out. That part was probably correct. Maybe it wasn’t even ten minutes before he said, “Guys, I’m gone.”
This was made possible by the vacancy at Aston Martin following the resignation of Sebastian Vettel. He attracted a variety of names. Of course, Alonso was one of them.
Even before his Formula 1 comeback at Alpine, there had been talks with Lawrence Stroll about a possible deal. Yet few would have expected things to move so quickly this time around, especially Alpine.
The loss of a rider of Alonso’s experience and caliber is a huge blow to the French side. But he also seems to solve the problem Alpine had with Oscar Piastri. Because you were stuck in a classic “three drivers in two places” dilemma that many teams are familiar with.
The dilemma at Alpine
Esteban Ocon was on a long-term contract, Alonso was performing well and reserve rider Piastri was poised for promotion to the premier class.
Alpine chief executive Laurent Rossi said while still in France he was confident both Alonso and Piastri would race in Formula 1 next year, hinting that Alonso would stay and Piastri would be “loaned”.
Williams was the expected destination for the young Australian to replace Nicholas Latifi, but over time McLaren also emerged as a possible destination should Daniel Ricciardo leave at the end of the season.
It was made clear from the start that Alpine Piastri didn’t want to lose. Rossi stressed they just wanted to loan him out to another team and not let him go entirely – which would have happened if he hadn’t been given a Formula 1 spot for 2023. Confidence in his future is strong.
As much as Alpine didn’t want to lose Alonso, Piastri was desperate to be held. Had Alonso gone to the bosses and used Aston Martin’s interest as a bargaining chip for a better deal, the fear of life without Alonso would hardly have been so great on the face of it.
The fact that talks have dragged on for so long has led to some question marks over Piastri and Alpine’s future together and whether this might have opened the door for another team to nab him.
Alpine wants to keep Piastri
During the weekend in Hungary, rumors increased that McLaren could be an option if Ricciardo leaves the racing team – possibly even by 2024.
So if Alpine was so confident that Alonso would continue, would Piastri have slipped through their fingers by now? While Piastri is still tied to Alpine, the priority for them will be getting him on the grid and building a long-term future after Alonso.
An Ocon/Piastri pair may not have the experience or star power of Alonso, but the prospects are nonetheless promising. Especially since Alpine will finally achieve its goal of putting one of its juniors on a works driver’s seat – albeit earlier than expected.
However, the impact on the driver market goes far beyond Alonso’s move to Aston Martin and the resulting opportunity for Piastri at Alpine. Alpine isn’t the only team getting the chance to make long-term plans with one of their own young riders.
For Williams it would have been attractive in many ways to bring Piastri on loan from Alpine and give him a chance. At the same time, it wouldn’t have made sense to support Piastri in his development only to let him go again in a year or two.
If Williams wants to think long-term and invest in his own talent, then Logan Sargeant, the leading member of the youth academy and currently third in the Formula 2 standings, makes a more sensible choice.
Rookie at Williams too?
Losing the 2020 Formula 3 title to Piastri by just four points, Sargeant – following financial setbacks – managed to impress in his rookie Formula 2 season this year.
Williams team boss Jost Capito admitted in France that it would give him “a good headache” if Sargeant were an option for a Formula 1 spot next year. For the American-owned team, hiring a young American driver might be the best move.
Another candidate for Williams would be Nyck de Vries, whom the team considered for this year before finally signing Alex Albon. De Vries is well respected by Capito and has made a name for himself with titles in Formula 2 and Formula E.
At 27, however, he may be at a disadvantage to Sargeant at 21 – and lacks the commercial appeal that a US F1 driver would bring.
As in the previous year after George Russell’s move to Mercedes, the vacant Williams cockpit is a seat that is of considerable importance in the “silly season” and does not have to be filled immediately. He could also be an option for a driver whose place is vacant.
So Alonso’s endorsement by Aston Martin means things could have taken a slight turn for Ricciardo as well. The Australian has made a clear commitment to fulfilling his three-year deal with McLaren, which expires at the end of 2023.
Ricciardo future uncertain
But Zak Brown’s remarks in May about “mechanisms” in his contract that allow for an early exit, ties to Piastri and the spate of IndyCar drivers who have recently been added to McLaren’s roster have reinforced rather than dispelled doubts about Ricciardo’s future .
Ricciardo’s best move is undoubtedly not moving. But if things had gotten to the point where a move was the only option, would Aston Martin have been a viable alternative? That’s unlikely.
Despite his talent and achievements, Ricciardo doesn’t quite fit the slick image that Aston Martin is aiming for with his team led by Lawrence Stroll.
If both sides’ commitment to keep Ricciardo at Woking is concrete, then Alonso’s move won’t change anything. But in the event that he should part ways with McLaren, there is now one less alternative.
Within a few days one driver announced his retirement and another decided to stay in Formula 1 for a few more years. Your choices will have a huge impact on the driver market. They’ve already got the carousel spinning – just when the summer break promised some relaxation.