SportF1The impact of Alonso's departure at Alpine and the...

The impact of Alonso's departure at Alpine and the F1 market

In the last two weeks, both Fernando Alonso and the Alpine board ensured that the driver’s future would be resolved quickly. Alonso himself said last Thursday that it would only take a 10-minute conversation to do so.

That part is probably true. You may not have even needed 10 minutes to say, “Guys, I’m out of here.”

There is no doubt about it: this is a big, big move in the F1 driver market. The Aston Martin seat that had become vacant following the announcement of Sebastian Vettel’s retirement was always going to be the key, as a variety of names were drawn to it.

Naturally, Alonso ‘s was also in the bag, having held talks with Lawrence Stroll before finally signing with Alpine for his return after two years away. However, few could have expected things to move so quickly.

Losing a driver of Alonso’s caliber and experience is a huge blow to Alpine. But the team can take solace in the fact that it solves the huge problem facing them in 2023: what to do about Oscar Piastri .

Alpine had been locked into a classic Formula 1 dilemma , the “three drivers, two seats” dilemma that many other teams have faced in the past. Esteban Ocon had a long-term contract, Alonso was putting in great performances and Piastri, the reserve driver, was waiting with his list of achievements in hand, which is the envy of anyone.

Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said in France that he was confident both Alonso and Piastri would race in F1 next year, indicating Alonso would stay and Piastri would be loaned out to another team. Williams was the intended destination for the young Australian, replacing Nicholas Latifi, but as time went on, McLaren also loomed as a possible future seat, should Daniel Ricciardo leave at the end of the season.

From the beginning it was very clear that Alpine did not want to lose Piastri. Rossi stressed that he would only be looking to loan him out to another team, not let him go entirely, something that would have happened had he not secured an F1 seat by 2023. Faith in his future is total.

Alpine has lost the headache of trying to fit three drivers into two F1 race seats

As much as Alpine didn’t want to lose Alonso, having Piastri in his pocket would have given him some support in the talks. If Alonso had gone to Alpine bosses and used Aston Martin’s interest as a bargaining chip to get a better deal, it is unlikely there would have been the same fear of what life would be like without Alonso. Piastri could be the solution to this problem.

Or so it seems. The fact that talks have dragged on so long has led to questions about Piastri and Alpine’s future together, and whether it may have opened the door for another team to take him away, given that their initial deal included several time-sensitive clauses, set around the summer. Over the weekend in Hungary, it was increasingly rumored that McLaren could be an option should Ricciardo leave, or could even look further afield and set his sights on 2024. If Alpine were so sure Alonso would continue, could Piastri have already escaped from his hands?

But as long as Piastri stays with them, Alpine’s priority will be to get him on the grid and start building a long-term future after Alonso. An Ocon/Piastri lineup may lack the experience or power that Alonso has as the established star of the series, but there’s no denying that it’s an exciting prospect. Alpine will also finally achieve its goal of getting one of its young drivers into an F1 seat as a works driver, albeit sooner than it would have anticipated a couple of weeks ago.

But the ripple effect in the driver market goes beyond Alonso going to Aston Martin and Piastri getting, as a result of this move, an opportunity at Alpine. In fact, Alpine may not be the only team that has the opportunity to capitalize on a young driver that it has supported and can now make long-term plans with.

For Williams , getting Piastri as a driver on loan from Alpine could have been good in many ways, giving a bright young driver a chance. However, it also didn’t make much sense if he was going to help develop Piastri only to have him leave in a year or two.

If Williams wanted to look long term and invest in its own talent, then Logan Sargeant , the leading member of its young driver academy and currently third in the Formula 2 championship, was a more sensible choice. Sargeant missed out on the F3 title to Piastri in 2020 by just four points, and has bounced back from financial setbacks to impress everyone in his first F2 campaign this year.

Williams boss Jost Capito acknowledged in France that it would be a “good headache” if Sargeant became an option for an F1 seat next year. Let’s face it, for a team looking to build its future, and which has American owners, having a young American driver on the grid might be the best move they can make.

Could Sargeant be in line at Williams for 2023?

Another candidate for Williams would be Nyck de Vries, who had been considered for this year before signing Alex Albon as Latifi’s partner. De Vries is highly valued by Capito and has earned his stripes thanks to the titles he has achieved in Formula 2 and Formula E, but at 27, he has less of a future than Sargeant, 21, and he lacks the commercial boost that comes with putting an American driver on the grid, which would also have huge appeal for F1.

Like last year following George Russell’s move to Mercedes, Williams’ spare seat is one that could be the linchpin during the rumor season and doesn’t need to be filled immediately. Sargeant has yet to earn the points needed for the F1 superlicense, but he will do so if he remains in contention for the F2 title, and if you’re a driver in need of a seat, he could be an option.

It is for that very reason that Alonso’s confirmation by Aston Martin means things may have taken a slight turn for Daniel Ricciardo too.

The Australian has made clear his commitment to fulfill his three-year contract with McLaren, which expires at the end of the 2023 season, however a comment from Zak Brown , the team’s general manager, about the “mechanisms” within his contract and that would allow an early exit, which, added to the long list of IndyCar drivers who have signed with McLaren, has done little to quell doubts about his future.

Ricciardo's options away from McLaren have disappeared, as he commits to turning around his form at the team

Ricciardo ‘s best move, hands down, is not moving. But if things got to a point where change was the only option, would Aston Martin have been a viable landing place? It is unlikely. For all his talent and success, Ricciardo does not fit the image that Aston Martin has sought to portray to the world with his team under Stroll’s ownership. If the commitment from both sides to make Ricciardo work at Woking is real, then Alonso’s move won’t change anything. But in the event that he leaves McLaren, there is now one less alternative on the table.

In the space of a few days, we’ve seen one F1 great hang up his helmet, and another commit to a few more years on the grid.

The decisions will have huge ramifications on the driver market and have already kick-started rumor season, just as the paddock was planning to rest for the summer break.

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