In the past two weeks, both Alonso and the top dogs at Alpine have expressed confidence that things will be resolved quickly. Alonso said he thought it would only take a 10-minute meeting to sort things out on Thursday.
That might be a little true. It probably didn’t even take him 10 minutes to say, “Guys, I’m out.”
Make no bones about it: this is a big, big move in F1’s silly season. The Aston Martin seat, vacated by the retired Sebastian Vettel, will always be key to the market, attracting a variety of names. In the year Alonso was in nature, having spoken to Lawrence Stroll about a deal with Alpine for an F1 return in 2021.
Losing Alonso’s experience and driver is a big loss for the French team. On the face of it, it seems to solve the problem of what he was going to do with Oscar Piastre.
Alpine is stuck in the “three drivers in two seats” conundrum that many F1 teams have faced in the past. With Esteban Ocon on a long-term contract, Alonso performing well and reserve driver Piastre waiting in the wings, the junior’s record would be the envy of anyone on the F1 grid.
Alpine chief executive Laurent Rossi said in France that he is confident Alonso and Piastre will compete in F1 next year, indicating that Alonso will stay and Piastre be loaned out. Williams had been the preferred destination for the young Australian as he replaced Nicolas Laffey, but as time went on McLaren were also emerging as a landing spot with Daniel Ricciardo leaving at the end of the season.
It was clear from the start that Alpine did not want to lose Piastre. Rossi has said he only wants to loan him out to another team, not let him go completely – something that could have happened if he failed to secure an F1 seat for 2023. Faith in the future is universal.
Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastre, Alpine, Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO
Photo by: Alpine
Alpine didn’t want to lose Alonso, but having Piastri in his back pocket would have given him some support in talks. Had Alonso gone to Alpine bosses and used Aston Martin’s interest for a better deal, there wouldn’t have been the same fear of what life would have been like without Alonso. Piastre solves that problem.
Or so it seems. The long delay in talks has raised some questions about the future of Piastri and Alpine, and perhaps opened the door for another outfit to enter. Around the summer. At the weekend in Hungary, whispers were rife that McLaren could see Ricciardo out or beyond 2024.
As long as Piastri is still at hand, the priority for Alpine is to get him on the grid and start building after Alonso for the long haul. The Ocon/Piastre line may not have the experience or star power that Alonso carries, but it’s undeniably an exciting prospect. Alpine will achieve its goal of placing one of its juniors in the workplace, albeit a few weeks earlier than expected.
But the knock-on effect on the driver’s market goes beyond Alonso’s move to Aston Martin, with Piastieri firing on the Alpine. In fact, Alpine may not be the only team with a chance to cash in on a young driver, and they can now plan for the long term.
For Williams, bringing Piastre on loan from Alpine could be good in many ways, giving a mature young driver a chance. However, if it only helps Piastre to leave in a year or two, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
If Williams wanted to take a long-term view and invest in its own talent, Logan Sargent, a leading member of its young driver academy, now third in the Formula 2 standings, was a more sensible choice. Sargeant Piastri missed out on the F3 title in 2020 by just four points, and has recovered from a financial setback to impress in his rookie F2 campaign this year.
Williams boss Jost Capito admitted in France it would be a “good headache” if Sargent is an option for an F1 seat next year. Frankly, for a team looking to build for the future and with American owners, getting a young American driver onto the grid might be the best move.
Race winner Logan Sargent, Carlin
Photo by: Williams
Another Williams candidate is Nick de Vries, who they considered for this year before eventually signing Alex Albon to partner Laffey. De Vries is highly rated by Capito and has won titles in F2 and Formula E, but at 27, he may have a lower ceiling than Sergeant at 21 and lacks the commercial momentum to get a US driver onto the grid, which will happen. You also have a great appeal for F1.
Just like last year after George Russell’s move to Mercedes, the vacant Williams seat is one that could be very powerful during the season and doesn’t need to be filled right away. Sargeant still needs to get the requisite F1 superlicence points – but he will if he stays in title contention – and if you’re a driver looking for a seat, this could be an option.
For the same reason, Aston Martin’s confirmation of Alonso means that things may have taken a turn for Ricciardo. The Australian is clear in his commitment to see out his three-year contract with McLaren at the end of next season, but Zach Brown’s comments in May about a “mechanism” in his contract that would allow him to exit early, links to Piastri and the IndyCar drivers signed to McLaren’s driver pool. Congestion did nothing to assuage his doubts about the future.
Ricardo’s best move is to not move. But if things got to the point where a convertible was the only option, would Aston Martin be a comfortable landing spot? It is unlikely. For all his talent and success, Ricciardo didn’t quite fit the image of agility that Aston Martin had been chasing with the team under Stroll’s ownership. If the commitment from both parties to keep Ricciardo working at Woking is realistic, Alonso’s move will make no difference. But if he splits with McLaren, there’s now one less viable option on the table.
In just a few days, we’ve uploaded one F1 best helmet, and another that we’ve promised for a few years on the grid.
The decisions will have a huge impact on the driver market and have sent an already silly season into a spin – just as Paddock plans to retire during the summer break.
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images