Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer revealed he was left blindsided by Fernando Alonso’s decision to join Aston Martin, which has now blown the driver market wide open.
The 41-year-old Alonso confirmed on Monday that he would be switching from Alpine to Aston Martin on a multiyear contract starting next season to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel.
The move caught everyone by surprise, including Szafnauer who told motorsport.com that he only found out about the news when he read an official press release.
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“It was the first confirmation I had,” Szafnauer said.
“Obviously, when we’re in the paddock, there’s all sorts of rumours, and I had heard rumours that Aston were interested.
“Once you hear that they’re interested, there’s probably discussions that took place and there’s some other indications that discussions took place, like walking out of the same motorhome at the same time, all that kind of stuff, which I saw.
“But I was confident that, even with the discussions, and there’s nothing wrong with exploring, that we were very close.
“So yes, the first confirmation I had was the press release. I did ask the question [to Alonso]. And I was told: ‘No, no, I haven’t signed anything.’ So I was a bit surprised.”
Szafnauer said he had not spoken to Alonso since the move was confirmed as he is “on a boat in the Greek Isles somewhere”.
If you take in Alonso’s comments last week though, it seems like the 41-year-old was happy to stay put at Alpine but was not getting any indication the feeling was mutual.
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“I will be on holidays and the bosses will be on holidays as well. So we need to take some video calls or whatever,” he said of holding talks with Alpine bosses over the summer.
“But when two parties, they want to agree on something, it takes 10 minutes.
“I would like to stay here, but there are two parties and I will not put a gun to the head of anyone.
“My priority is to be with Alpine because we’ve been working and developing this project together for two years now. We are more and more competitive.
“And probably my wish is to stay but we didn’t sit down completely and move things forward. So still, everything ongoing.”
Szafnauer also spoke in length about Oscar Piastri’s future, insisting that contractual terms will not allow the Australian to join McLaren despite rumours swirling in pitlane.
It has been widely reported that Piastri and his manager Mark Webber had a deal to go to McLaren when it looked like he would be loaned to Williams for 2023.
That, of course, has all changed now with Alonso’s move.
“I’m not privy to whatever pre-arrangements he has with McLaren, if any at all,” Szafnauer told motorsport.com.
“But I hear the same rumours that you do in the pitlane. But what I do know is that he does have contractual obligations to us. And we do to him. And we’ve been honouring those obligations all year.”
It is not clear at this stage whether Piastri will also honour those obligations or pursue the McLaren deal, although Szafnauer is certainly hoping the Australian leans towards the former.
“Those obligations, last through ‘23, and possibly in ‘24, if some options are taken up,” he said.
“And our obligations to him this year was to be a reserve driver, to also put him in last year’s car for a significant amount of time. We’re well over half that programme of 5000 kilometres, which isn’t insignificant, in last year’s car, in preparation for a race next year.
“Also FP1s, simulation work, and we’ve been performing those obligations on both sides. So he’s been performing, we’ve been performing.
“So therefore we do have a legal contract with him into the future for ‘23. And if an option is taken up, for ‘24. So I don’t know what he’s done with McLaren. Like I said, I’m not privy to that.”
When asked whether he knew which way Piastri’s management was leaning, Szafnauer said: “Oscar and his camp are considering their options, whatever that means.”
Prominent F1 journalist Adam Cooper tweeted on Tuesday night there is a “legal limbo” with Piastri as Alpine “clearly believes” the Australian is “contractually obliged to drive if offered a 2023 race seat”.
“The question now is what sort of arrangement he and manager Mark Webber have made with McLaren,” he added.