What Alonso’s Alpine exit means for the rest of the F1 driver market

Over the past few weeks, both Alonso and Alpine’s top dogs have expressed confidence that everything would be resolved quickly. Alonso said on Thursday that he thought it would only take a 10-minute conversation to sort everything out.

That part was probably true. It might not even have taken 10 minutes for him to say, “Guys, I’m gone.”

Make no bones about it: this is a huge, huge step in the crazy F1 season. The Aston Martin seat vacated by the outgoing Sebastian Vettel would always remain key to the market, attracting a variety of names. Alonso was, of course, in the mix, having discussed a deal with Lawrence Stroll ahead of his 2021 F1 comeback with Alpine. Few expected it to go so quickly, especially Alpine.

The loss of a driver of Alonso’s experience and caliber is a huge blow to the French squad. At first glance, it seems to solve the problem of what it would do to Oscar Piastri.

Alpine is trapped in a classic ‘three drivers in two seats’ conundrum that many F1 teams have dealt with in the past. It had Esteban Ocon on a long-term contract, Alonso performed well and reserve driver Piastri waited in the wings with a junior record that everyone on the F1 grid is envious of.

Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said in France that he was confident that both Alonso and Piastri would race in F1 next year, indicating Alonso would stay put and Piastri would be loaned out. Williams was the anticipated destination for the young Australian, replacing Nicholas Latifi, but as time went on McLaren also emerged as a possible landing spot in the event that Daniel Ricciardo departed at the end of the season.

It was made clear from the start that Alpine did not want to lose Piastri. Rossi stressed that it only seems like loaning him to another team, not letting him go completely – something which would have happened if it hadn’t secured him an F1 seat for 2023. Confidence in his future is total.

Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastri, Alpine, Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO

Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastri, Alpine, Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO

Photo by: Alpine

As much as Alpine would have liked to lose Alonso, if he had had Piastri in his back pocket, it would have given him some support in the negotiations. Had Alonso gone to Alpine’s bosses and used Aston Martin’s interest as leverage for a better deal, it was unlikely there would have been the same fear of what life would be like without Alonso. Piastri would solve that problem.

Or so it seems. The fact that the talks have dragged on for so long has raised some question marks about Piastri and Alpine’s future together, and whether it might have opened the door for another outfit to dive in and chase him away, as his deal several time-sensitive clauses around the summer. There were growing whispers over the Hungarian weekend that McLaren could be an option in the event that Ricciardo left, or possibly even look further into 2024. If Alpine was so confident that Alonso would continue, Piastri would have already passed. slipped your fingers?

As long as Piastri is still in his hands, Alpine’s priority will be to get him on the grid and start building a long-term, post-Alonso future. An Ocon/Piastri lineup may lack the experience or star power that Alonso has, but there’s no denying it’s an exciting prospect. Alpine will also finally reach its goal of getting one of its juniors into a factory seat, even if it’s sooner than expected just a few weeks ago.

But the knock-on effect on the rider market goes far beyond Alonso and Aston Martin and Piastri get a chance with Alpine as a result. Alpine may not be the only team to have the opportunity to monetize a young driver it has supported and can now plan for the long term with.

In many ways it would have been good for Williams to loan Piastri from Alpine, as it gave a chance to a brilliant young driver. But it also didn’t make sense if it helped Piastri develop, only if he left in a year or two.

If Williams wanted to look long-term and invest in his own talent, Logan Sargeant, the leading member of the young drivers’ academy who is currently third in the Formula 2 standings, was a wiser choice. Sargeant missed the F3 title for Piastri in 2020 by just four points, and has recovered from financial setbacks to impress in his rookie F2 campaign this year.

Williams boss Jost Capito admitted in France that it would be a “good headache” if Sargeant became an option for an F1 seat next year. Honestly, for a team that wants to build for the future and has a team with American owners, getting a young American driver on the grid might be the best move.

Race winner Logan Sargeant, Carlin

Race winner Logan Sargeant, Carlin

Photo by: Williams

Another Williams candidate would be Nyck de Vries, who considered it for this year before eventually signing Alex Albon as a partner of Latifi. De Vries is highly regarded by Capito and has earned his stripes through titles in F2 and Formula E, but at 27 he may have a lower ceiling than Sargeant at 21 and lacks the commercial boost to a to get an American driver on the grid. also have a great appeal to F1.

Much like last year after George Russell’s move to Mercedes, the open Williams seat is one that can be quite powerful in a silly season and doesn’t need to be filled right away. Sargeant has yet to achieve the required F1 super license points – but will if he stays in the title race – and if you’re a driver in need of a seat, this could be an option.

It’s for the same reason that Aston Martin’s confirmation of Alonso meanness could also take a small turn for Ricciardo. The Australian has been clear in his commitment to complete his three-year deal with McLaren, which expires at the end of next season, but Zak Brown’s comment in May about “mechanisms” in his contract that would allow for an early exit left the to Piastri and the flurry of IndyCar drivers signed to McLaren’s driver pool has done little to allay doubts about his future.

Ricciardo’s best move is undoubtedly not to move. But if it came to the point where a transfer was the only option, would Aston Martin have been a viable landing place? It’s unlikely. For all his talent and success, Ricciardo didn’t quite fit the slick image Aston Martin aspired to with his team under Stroll’s ownership. If the commitment from both sides to make it work for Ricciardo in Woking is concrete, Alonso’s move will not change anything. But in the event that he broke up with McLaren, there is now one less alternative option on the table.

In a matter of days we had one F1 fan hang up his helmet and another committed to a few more years on the grid.

The decisions will have huge implications for the rider market and have already sent a maddening season into a spin – just as the paddock planned to get its legs up over the summer break.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo By: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Leave a Comment