Alpine suffered a double-blow, first learning of Alonso’s decision to join Aston Martin in 2023 then being thwarted after announcing Oscar Piastri as his replacement when the driver reacted “that is wrong”.
Team principal Szafnauer told El Confidencial about Alonso’s shock exit: “I believe that I am a man of integrity and that if I commit to something, I will do everything I can to make it happen. I keep my word, it’s the way I’ve grown up, that my father passed on to me.
“But hey, I’ve understood that not everyone does things the same way.”
Alonso was reportedly tempted to join Aston Martin as a replacement for the retiring Sebastian Vettel by a pay rise and a multi-year contract which includes the option for the driver and team to reassess their partnership after each season.
Szafnauer explains the deal he offered Alonso to stay beyond the end of 2022: “A two-year contract, although it was one plus one. I think one of the keys for Fernando was the extension of the contract.
“He’s performing at a very high level and I told him that if he continued at that level, next year we would surely continue, we would be crazy not doing it.
“But, as for everyone in life, there comes a time when age affects your psychological abilities, your eyes, your brain, your muscles, your nervous system.
“We offered him more money than we paid him now, which is logical. It was a figure that at the beginning he tried to negotiate, as everyone does, but in the end we reached an agreement, formally.
“I’ve heard rumours that he’s been given a very high offer. I don’t know if it has been a decisive factor – ask him.”
Alpine’s week went from bad to worse when, hours after announcing that Alonso’s replacement in 2023 would be Piastri, the driver himself said “I won’t be driving for Alpine”.
Piastri is currently Alpine’s test and reserve driver but intends to further shake up the 2023 driver line-up by joining McLaren, who have told Daniel Ricciardo that he will no longer be required.
But Szafnauer has dug his heels in: “This is not final yet, it has yet to be decided.
“We have a contract with Piastri, which he signed in November, we have spoken to our lawyers and they have told us that this is a binding contract, so part of that contract allows us to ride Oscar in one of our cars in 2023, which is nothing more than the reason we issued the press release.
“There is also an option for 2024 and the possibility for us to ‘lend’ the driver to another team. We wanted Fernando with us for another year and then a ‘loan’ from Oscar for 2023. I have always said it in all my press conferences, that Piastri would be in Formula 1 in 2023 and it is because I knew he could be in our car or in another, on loan, if Fernando had stayed.
“But Alonso, for whatever reason – and I think I know the reasons, although you should ask him – is going to Aston Martin. So, we started to finalize the agreement with Piastri, and instead of giving it up, we decided to put him in our car.”
Szafnauer hit out: “The strategic plan is very good and Piastri knows it. Better even than McLaren’s.
“We have supported him. There should be some loyalty to the fact that we have invested literally millions and millions of euros to prepare him. So I don’t understand it either, you should ask him.
“We had a contract with Piastri and we have to understand where it takes us legally. We believe, and that is why we issued the statement, that we have a binding contract. Let’s spend some time studying where this takes us.
“And if Piastri isn’t in the car – which I think he’s going to be – because Fernando is out, I have 14 phone calls from drivers who are interested, because the Alpine seat is the most valuable one left.”
Esteban Ocon is already signed up by Alpine for next season. They have notably been linked with Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly, who reportedly has a contractual clause with AlphaTauri which could result in a move.