Otmar Szafnauer, the team principal of the Alpine Formula 1 team, says Fernando Alonso’s decision to join Aston Martin came as a bit of a shock as the team and driver were still negotiating a potential contract renewal as of this weekend.
With Sebastian Vettel announcing his retirement from F1 during the lead-up to the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Aston Martin outfit moved swiftly securing Alonso’s in under a week’s time. The move took many by surprise including it seems Szafnauer, who has stated that the team was still negotiating with Alonso about a potential contract renewal this past weekend.
Szafanauer though is confident that working with Alonso for the remainder of the season won’t be a problem considering the Spaniard’s professionalism.
“I was confident even with the discussions – there is nothing wrong with exploring – that we were very close (to a deal),” Szafanuer told the BBC.
“I did ask the question, but I was told ‘no I haven’t signed anything’. So I was a bit surprised.
“I have absolutely no worries about the rest of the season, our goals are clear, we want to finish at least fourth in the constructors’. Fernando realises that, too.
“I have texted him. I will call him. He is a competitor and a professional and once he puts the helmet on he wants to win. Nothing else is on his mind in the car other than finishing as high as he can.”
Alonso’s age a reason discussions stalled
Szafanauer also admitted that Alonso‘s age, he just turned 41 this past weekend, was the primary sticking point between the two parties. The Alpine boss wanted to offer the former world champion a year-on-year extension but Alonso wanted something more long-term.
“We offered him a one-plus-one deal,” Szafnauer stated.
“We discussed with Fernando, ‘Look, if next year at this time you’re performing at the same level, of course we’ll take you.’
“But he wanted more certainty: ‘Independent of performance, I want to stay for longer.’
“That was the crux of going one-plus-one as opposed to two-plus-one or three-plus-one or three years.
“There does come a time when something happens physiologically and you don’t have the same capabilities as when you were younger.
“It happened to Michael Schumacher at 42 – he was not the same driver as at 32 as 35. It happens in cricket, which is a far less physical sport. And it happens to racing drivers, too.
“So we were in favour of yes, if you’re performing at a high level we’ll keep you. But let’s do it one year at a time.”
Is Piastri the favorite to replace Alonso?
While Alpine does have a contractual clause that gives them the first call on development driver Oscar Piastri, Szafanuer stated that discussions had not taken place with the Piastri camp with the Australian’s manager, Mark Webber, still in Australia.
“Oscar and his camp are ‘considering their options,’ whatever that means,” Szafanuer explained.
“There are some considerations going from a reserve driver contract with options to becoming a racing driver contract.”
Rumors in the paddock also indicate that Piastri has been speaking with McLaren about a potential deal, with Szafanuer neither confirming nor denying that conversations between the two parties have taken place.
“I’m not privy to whatever pre-arrangement he has with McLaren if any any all but I hear the same rumours you do,” Szafnauer stated.
“But I do know he does have contractual obligations to us and we do to him.”
If Piastri does indeed sign with McLaren, Alpine could re-sign Daniel Ricciardo with the Australian considered a “good option.”