The first half of the 2019 Formula 1 season wasn’t kind to Pierre Gasly as his promotion to Red Bull Racing was turning into a baptism of fire rather than a waltz to glory, and he just suffered the indignity of being lapped by then teammate, Max Verstappen during the Hungarian Grand Prix.
This humiliating moment was the final straw for Red Bull, who demoted Gasly back to Toro Rosso whilst the Frenchman was on holiday, with Alex Albon promoted to the parent team after an excellent start to the 2019 season.
Fast forward three years and one Italian Grand Prix victory later, Gasly is being linked with another big team, Alpine, who are hurriedly looking for a replacement for Aston Martin-bound Fernando Alonso after Oscar Piastri jilted the Enstone-based team at the alter to go to McLaren.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the Frenchman given AlphaTauri have regressed in 2022, and with his contract expiring in 2023, the move would seemingly give Gasly security.
But in a year when Alpine has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, is the Anglo-French team ready to take on two hungry drivers who once despised each other in karts amidst a backdrop of inner team turmoil that has seen Alpine lose its present, and it’s future.
Why Alpine want Gasly
Gasly to Alpine may seem like a marriage made in heaven, but it’s now become a marriage of convenience.
Alpine need a driver after losing Alonso to Aston Martin and Piastri to McLaren, whilst Gasly is looking for a new challenge with Sergio Perez confirmed at Red Bull until 2024.
It makes sense then for them to team up for 2023. Alpine have a good package and a well-sized budget, which, coupled with Gasly becoming a more polished driver, the transition from Alonso to Gasly wouldn’t be as drastic as if, let’s say, Daniel Ricciardo or Mick Schumacher got the call-up.
Plus, with Jack Doohan, Caio Collect and Formula 3 champion Victor Martins not quite ready to jump to Formula 1 and Gasly’s abilities to move AlphaTauri up to the front of the midfield and it’s no wonder that both parties are keen to sign for the long term rather than the short term.
Are Alpine ready for Gasly?
There are, however, some drawbacks to this proposed French dream team.
One of which is that whilst Alpine may be a better choice from a competitive perspective, but off the track, it’s a team in crisis after a cruel summer which saw a war of words between Otmar Szafnauer and Piastri, with a humiliating loss in the FIA Contract Recognition Board (CRB) costing Alpine over half a million pounds.
Szafnauer poured petrol onto an already burning fire when accusing Piastri of disloyalty, with the company’s CEO Laurent Rossi so enraged by the snub that he is willing to close the entire Alpine Academy if it is unable to find its juniors a drive in Formula 1.
“I expected more loyalty from Oscar than he is showing,” said Szafnauer in an interview with Spanish publication El Confidencial.
“He should have more loyalty to the team that has looked after him, that has taken him to the world championship and, above all, that for the last year has put him in a Formula 1 car to get him ready.”
Then there’s the question of whether Esteban Ocon could accept his old karting rival as his teammate when he could finally earn the mantle of the team’s number one driver.
The mutual dislike may have subsided, but that may all change once again if Ocon’s aggressive driving during the opening lap of races this year hampers Gasly’s races as they did to Alonso’s due in part to Gasly being more outspoken than the two-time World champion.
During his time at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri, Gasly openly refused to do driver swaps when asked numerous times, potentially jeopardising the team. While this seems less of an occurrence these days, it is worth noting if the inter-team battle starts costing the team dearly.
Will history repeat itself?
Historically all French lineups at French teams haven’t always been the most stable, with Renault’s last all-French lineup of Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux turning into a bitter grudge match that ended in the latter leaving for Ferrari at the end of 1982.
Szafnauer will be hoping that things will be much more tamer this time, but considering how he let Ocon’s inter-team rivalry with Sergio Perez escalate to the point of social media slander but managing a more mature Ocon and Gasly should be much easier to manage.
The American-Romanian’s future at the team may depend on how well or how badly he handles the dynamic between the two Frenchman, as a lack of harmony between the two drivers will cause team morale to drop, affecting results and potentially forcing Rossi to make a change.
In the past, the team have had a habit of chopping and changing key personnel, whether that’s the dismissals of Frederic Vasseur in 2016, Cyril Abiteboul in 2021 and Marcin Budkowski in 2022, all three faced the axe due to issues off the track painting a picture of a team that is continuously fighting.
Will Gasly at Alpine work?
With all this in mind, it’s hard to guess whether Gasly and Alpine would work but considering Gasly is one of the best on the grid- ensuring that the hangover from Alonso and Piastri’s departure won’t be too long-lasting.
Sure, Gasly and Ocon are immensely competitive, but they say time heals everything, and the feud between the pair has morphed into a mutual respect for one another, indicating that they would be willing to work together if the opportunity arose.
Alpine have the fourth fastest car on the grid and a commercial team ready to earn their money’s worth from having an all-French superteam, and all the questions regarding whether a lack of team unity could cause havoc suddenly become irrelevant, providing that the team’s management keeps things running smoothly.