While the F1 paddock was packed at the Hungaroring on Sunday night, all eyes were on Alpine over the summer break and what was expected to be a few short talks to land a new contract with Alonso.
Team boss Otmar Szafnauer seemed relaxed when he agreed with Alonso’s comment from earlier in the weekend that it would probably only take 10 minutes to get it all sorted out.
“Very clear,” he suggested about how he saw the negotiations going.
Szafnauer insisted that the big-ticket issues central to a contract (including deal length) were all resolved; and it was only a matter of details. But there was an intriguing pause when asked if money was one of the key areas where the two sides stayed far apart.
He replied: “Not just Fernando. Every driver I’ve ever negotiated with has been a matter of money. And other things too.
“But yes, for whatever reason, they want the most money and we want the least. And then we end up in some kind of an unhappy place for everyone, or a happy place that everyone is willing to sign.”
Unbeknownst to Szafnauer, the wheels elsewhere were already well underway. In fact, Alonso would not continue negotiations with Alpine as he was already on his way to Aston Martin.
After a weekend of intense efforts by both Alonso and Aston Martin to keep the deal a secret, it was finally announced to the wider team and the public on Monday morning.
When Vettel announced his intention to retire, Aston acted swiftly to secure the best possible replacement
Photo By: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Behind the scenes, it’s clear that Aston Martin and its owner Lawrence Stroll had been hard at work for several days putting together a package good enough to convince Alonso to commit already, without dragging things to summer. having to drag.
It was a dramatic change of plan for the team. For many weeks, Aston Martin’s focus had been on continuing with Sebastian Vettel, but it knew the German was evaluating whether or not he wanted to continue in F1.
Aston Martin stayed loyal to Vettel for as long as possible, but when the four-time world champion for Hungary finally informed the team hierarchy that he wanted to retire on Wednesday, he knew he couldn’t sit back and risked finishing in second place. – fare choice as other better options were picked up elsewhere.
That is why, rather than keeping Vettel’s retirement intentions a secret until much later in the campaign, the wheels were set in motion to get the information out as soon as possible. It had the dual benefit of lifting a weight off Vettel’s shoulders, but it also made it pretty clear to every driver on the grid that there was now a clear vacancy.
In fact, Aston Martin played its hand in washing down the driver market to find out who was available and what the interest was. Those who wanted the chair would of course get in touch; and Alonso was one of them.
For the Spaniard, whose talks with Alpine had reached a bit of an impasse and had to be resolved over the summer, he suddenly found himself in a situation where he went from potentially a new contract with Alpine to definitely a contract with Aston Martin . As he had said on Thursday when asked if Aston Martin was an option: “All teams are an option as long as they have not signed two drivers.
“My priority is to be with Alpine because you know, we’ve been working and developing this project together for two years now.
“We are becoming more and more competitive. And probably my wish is to stay. But we haven’t, you know, been all in and moving things forward. So still, everything continues.”
Alonso had publicly stated that he intended to stay with Alpine beyond his current contract, but was interested when Vettel’s Aston Martin seat became available
Photo by: Alpine
In retrospect, the use of that word “probably” is intriguing. Obviously, there had been no formal discussions with Aston Martin senior management at the time. But once the Vettel news got out and the possibility of a switch became a real option, things moved incredibly quickly.
From Aston Martin’s perspective it was a no-brainer to do whatever it took to convince Alonso to join – knowing full well there was a slim chance before he could get 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 didn’t match the kind of ambitions team owner Stroll has for his team to win world championships. And ultimately, while Aston Martin’s competitive fortunes on the track aren’t great this year, it’s the Silverstone teams’ ambitions that probably spoke loudest in swinging things for Alonso to finally commit.
No other team is currently undergoing the kind of investment and infrastructure upgrade as Aston Martin – boasting new sponsors, more technology partners and pushing hard with its new factory and wind tunnel plans.
For Alonso, a man motivated to win in F1 and not just race in midfield, he knows full well that money still buys a lot in the sport and he sees the potential in what Aston Martin has planned for the future . Alpine has been through its major investment phase since Renault originally came back to take over as a works team, and now it could well be a case of diminishing returns.
Of course, Aston Martin could be a big bet for Alonso, who at the age of 41 will probably have made the last roll of the dice in his F1 career if he really wants to get back to the front. But he was crystal clear in Hungary, in some prophetic words that, outside of the big three teams at the moment, every driver is betting on finding the right spot.
“There is no crystal ball you can choose,” he said of the need to be in a winning car. “I think with this set of regulations it seems like Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes: they are the only teams capable of winning races.
“So if you have a chance with those three teams until 2023, you will try to join forces. But if there isn’t an opportunity, you have to trust that some of the projects may want them to be more competitive next year. That’s all I hope.”
Alonso knows Aston Martin is a gamble but believes its significant infrastructure investment makes it more likely to win than Alpine
Photo By: FIA Pool