Following the chaos surrounding Alpine’s drivers, the French team confirm that uncertainty about the impact of age on Fernando Alonso’s performances in Formula 1 was the reason they were not willing to offer him a guaranteed long-term contract.
The Enstone-based outfit were on the verge of a new deal with the two-time world champions before the Spaniard made a surprise move to Aston Martin earlier in the week to replace the retired Sebastian Vettel after the season.
One of the key factors behind Alonso’s decision to switch teams was the fact that Aston Martin were willing to offer him a much longer-term deal, reportedly for up to three years including options.
Alpine was only up for a one-plus-one contract
Alpine, on the other hand, were only willing to commit to a one-plus-one contract, wanting some flexibility should Alonso’s performance falter.
While 41-year-old Alonso believes his concerns are unfounded as he says he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet, Alpine insisted there would come a point when things could change.
When asked what Alpine was willing to offer Alonso, team boss Otmar Szafnauer says that age could not be ignored and that they wanted to cover themselves.
Alpine option would have been conditional
“It’s difficult to predict the future,” explains Szafnauer. “Like I always say, ‘If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t be here, I would be in Las Vegas.'”
“We offered a one-plus-one deal and we discussed with Fernando that if he is at the same level by this time next year we will of course continue to take him. It could have gone on like this.”
“But I think he wanted more security, regardless of the performance. He wanted to stay longer and I think that was the whole point why he decided against the one-plus-one option. It would be different with a two -plus-one, three-plus-one or even a three-year contract period.”
Szafnauer: In the end, Schumacher wasn’t that good either
Szafnauer defends his actions by saying that even the greatest drivers like Michael Schumacher were not as good at the end of their careers as they were at the beginning.
“There comes a time when something happens to a rider physiologically and you don’t have the same skills as you did when you were young,” said the Alpine team boss.
“I think that’s what happened with Michael. I think it’s fair to say that Michael Schumacher wasn’t the same driver at 42 as he was at 32 or 35. And that happens to other athletes too.”
Szafnauer draws a comparison to cricket
“For cricket players, for example, it’s not such a physically demanding sport. It’s all about eye-hand coordination and moving the bat in the right millimeter range to [die Stümpfe] to protect.
“But after 32, 33 or 34 years, the best batsman in the world can’t do that anymore. And that’s because something happens to them. And that also happens to racers,” explains Szafnauer.
“So we were in favor of saying, ‘Yes, if you play at a high level, of course we’ll keep you, but let’s do it one year at a time.’ And I think he just wanted a longer runtime.”
Alonso was supposed to earn less than Ocon
But in addition to the contract period, money also seems to have played a role in Alonso’s move to Aston Martin. It is believed that Alonso wanted more money than Alpine was willing to pay.
As the British “Motorsportmagazine.com” claims to have learned, the Spaniard may have been offered even less than Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon will earn in 2023 in the third season of his contract. Accordingly, the Frenchman’s salary will automatically increase drastically in the coming year.
With the move to Aston Martin, however, Alonso’s main criteria, the long contract period and a substantial salary, were met. Since reserve driver Oscar Piastri seems to be on his way to McLaren, Alpine currently only has one driver for 2023.
Szafnauer defends LMDh plan with Alonso
Szafnauer also dismissed suggestions that Alonso was not enthusiastic about plans to put him on Alpine’s LMDh program – at a time when he still felt he had much more to offer Formula 1.
About this project, Szafnauer says: “We had talks with Fernando and also with Laurent [Rossi, CEO von Alpine]. It was said that we would be happy if he continued in the family after Formula 1 and competed in other races with Alpine. So it wasn’t really a surprise for Fernando because he agreed and thought it was a good idea.”
“The only question was: When will that happen? But when it does happen, he was absolutely happy to go to Le Mans and continue on this path,” asserts the Alpine team boss.