With the F1 circuit full at Hungaroring on Sunday night, all eyes at Alpine were on a short break over the summer break and what were expected to be some short talks to secure a new contract with Alonso.
Team boss Otmar Szafnauer seemed relieved that he agreed with Alonso’s note earlier in the weekend that it will likely take just 10 minutes to sort things out.
“Very clear,” he noted, referring to how he views the negotiations.
Szafnauer insisted that the big ticket issues at the heart of the contract (including the length of the deal) were sorted out; It was just a matter of details. But there was an interesting pause when he was asked if money was one of the main areas in which the two sides remained far apart.
He replied: “Not only Fernando. Every driver I negotiated with was a matter 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 an unhappy place for everyone, or a happy place everyone wants to sign.”
Although Szafnauer didn’t know, the wheels were already moving well elsewhere. In fact, Alonso would not continue any negotiations with Alpine because he was already ready to move to Aston Martin.
After a weekend of intense effort from both Alonso and Aston Martin to keep the deal secret, it was finally announced to the wider team and the public on Monday morning.
When Vettel revealed his intention to retire, Aston moved quickly to secure the best possible replacement
Photo: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Behind the scenes, it is understood Aston Martin and owner Lawrence Stroll have been working hard for days putting together a package that was good enough to convince Alonso to actually commit, without having to drag things into the summer.
It was a drastic change in the team’s plan. For many weeks, Aston Martin’s focus was on continuing with Sebastian Vettel, but he knew the German was assessing whether or not he wanted to continue in Formula 1.
Aston Martin has stayed loyal to Vettel for as long as possible, but when the four-times world champion finally told the team’s hierarchy on Wednesday before Hungary that he wanted to retire, he knew he couldn’t sit back and take the risk in the end. Choose a rate because other better options were picked up elsewhere.
For this reason, rather than keeping Vettel’s retirement intentions secret until later in the campaign, the wheels were moved to obtain information as quickly as possible. It served the double benefit of putting a weight on Vettel’s shoulders but also making it clear to every driver on the grid that there was now a clear vacancy.
In fact, Aston Martin played its part in kicking out the driver market to see who was available and what was the point. Obviously, those who want the seat will be in touch; Alonso was one of them.
For the Spaniard, whose talks with Alpine are somewhat deadlocked and need to be settled over the summer, he suddenly finds himself in a situation where he has gone from potentially getting a new contract in Alpine to definitely getting one at Aston Martin. He also said on Thursday when asked if Aston Martin was an option: “All teams are available, as long as they don’t have two signed drivers.
“My priority is to be with Alpine because, you know, we have been working and developing this project together for two years now.
“We’re more competitive. And maybe my desire is to stay. But we haven’t quite sat down, you know, and moved on with things. So still, it’s all going on.”
Alonso has publicly announced his intention to stay with Alpine beyond his current contract, but was concerned when Vettel’s Aston Martin seat became open
Photo by: Alps
Looking back, the use of the word “maybe” is interesting. It is understood that at that point, there were no formal talks with Aston Martin’s senior management. But once news of Vettel came out and switching became a real option, things moved incredibly quickly.
From Aston Martin’s perspective, it didn’t make sense to do what it took to convince Alonso to join – knowing full well that there was a narrow chance before he was lost elsewhere. Let’s also not forget that there is a bit of history between Stroll/Aston Martin and Szafnauer….
There may have been more readily available driver options for the team elsewhere – such as Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg – but they did not match the kind of ambitions that team owner Stroll has for his team to win world championships. In the end, while Aston Martin’s competitive fortunes on track this year aren’t great, it’s the ambitions of the Silverstone teams that are likely to speak volumes about swinging things around until Alonso finally commits.
No other team is undergoing this kind of investment and infrastructure improvement like Aston Martin at the moment – which boasts new sponsors and more technology partners and is pressing ahead with its plans for a new plant and wind tunnels.
For Alonso, the man who has the drive to win in Formula 1 and not just race in midfield, he knows money can still buy a lot in the sport and can see the potential in what Aston Martin has planned for the future. Alpine has already gone through a major investment phase since Renault originally returned to take over the team as a team, and now it could be a case of diminishing returns.
Sure, Aston Martin could be a big gamble for Alonso, who, at 41, could have rolled the last roll of the dice of his F1 career if he really wanted to get back to the front. But it was quite clear in Hungary, in some prophetic words, that outside the big three teams at the moment, every driver is betting on finding the right spot.
“There is no crystal ball you can pick,” he said of the need to be in a winning car. “I think now with this set of regulations, it seems that Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes: they are the only teams that can win races.
So if you have a chance in 2023 with these three teams, you will try to join forces. But if there is no chance, you just need to trust a few projects, maybe they will be more competitive next year. That’s all I wish for.”
Alonso knows Aston Martin is a gamble, but he’s convinced that its heavy investment in infrastructure makes it a more profitable proposition than Alpine.
Photo by: FIA Pool