Alpine F1 has finally reacted to Oscar Piastri’s rejection to race for it in 2023, which certainly means the Australian has made a firm commitment to another team, McLaren F1 in this case.
Until now, only a spokesperson had reacted indicating that the team considered to be in its right concerning the tenure of Piastri.
Otmar Szafnauer, the director of Alpine F1, finally confided at length on this affair, to El Confidencial, returning first of all to the surprise announcement of Fernando Alonso to join a competing team without warning his bosses.
“It was the first time I experienced something like that, that’s for sure. Although I’m not completely surprised, because I experienced other situations and stories on both sides, on the side of the pilots and the side of the teams. But, in my case, I had never experienced anything like this.”
“The ‘Piranha Club’ in action? I think that’s capitalism at its best. Nothing is certain until he’s signed… We had many conversations with Fernando, we wanted him to he remains, obviously he also had his own with Aston Martin… So it was the details of the contract that they were putting on the table that interested him more than some of the details he had to discuss with us.
A tackle on Alonso over integrity
Szafnauer does not hesitate to tackle Alonso on the respect of commitments, even made orally, while the two men were discussing. Did he feel betrayed or disappointed Monday morning, at 10 a.m., at the time of the public announcement?
“As I said before, a bit of both. I can’t be naive enough not to know the rules of the game in Formula 1, I’ve been through many stories. But personally I believe I’m a man of integrity and that if I commit to something, I will do my best to make it happen.”
“I keep my word, it’s the way I grew up, what my father passed on to me. I did it with Sebastian Vettel, with Julian Jacobi – who managed Ayrton Senna and now Sergio Pérez -, with Anthony Hamilton when he represented Paul di Resta… But well, I understood that not everyone does things the same way.”
“Alonso told me on Sunday evening that he was going to a Greek island on a boat, I think he mentioned it, but not for me to accompany him. I called him several times in the morning and I couldn’t reach him. That’s what he told me, that it would be difficult to locate him, that’s why he said that. Regarding Piastri’s statement, once we heard about Fernando with Aston Martin, as we were working with him for next year and saw that Alonso’s continuity was not possible, we took out the press release.”
“We have a contract with Piastri”
Alpine F1 had three excellent drivers on July 31, two more on August 1, including one who wants to leave. But Szafnauer still hopes to be able to keep Piastri next year, although that will have to be played out in front of the lawyers.
“It’s not final yet. We have a contract with Piastri, which he signed in November, we spoke with our lawyers and they told us that it is a binding contract, so a part of this contract allows us to put Oscar in one of our cars in 2023, which is why we issued the press release.”
“There is also an option for 2024 and the possibility for us to ‘loan’ the driver to another team. We wanted Fernando with us for another year and then a loan from Oscar for 2023. I always said that in all my press conferences, that Piastri would be in Formula 1 in 2023 and that’s because I knew he could be in our car or in another car, on loan, if Fernando had stayed.
“But Alonso, for some reason – and I think I know the reasons, although you should ask him – is going to Aston Martin. So we started to finalize the deal with Piastri, and instead of loaning him out, we decided to put it in our car. Hence the statement.”
Szafnauer ‘doesn’t understand’ Piastri
But Oscar Piastri said he didn’t want to race with Alpine. Why would he look for another team than the one that paid for his entire sporting career up to Formula 1?
“I think it’s a question for Piastri, because I don’t understand either. I’m relatively new to the team. The direction we have from Luca de Meo is magnificent, the support he gives us is fantastic, he saved the team Laurent Rossi, my immediate boss and CEO of Alpine, is a great deal maker for the brand, including the Formula 1 team… It’s all wonderful and we have it shared with the pilots.”
“Luca de Meo has a great vision, he has resuscitated the brand. The cars and their profits finance the team, which is a great marketing tool for the brand. The strategic plan is very good and Piastri knows it. Even better than McLaren. We are ahead of them in the championship and we hope to be ahead of them at the end.”
“The future of the team? We have a big budget and people with a lot of experience. I have just arrived, I know the areas to strengthen, the technical team, we are recruiting people in the areas we need to improve and we are implementing new tools.”
“In our future, in this 100 race plan that we are all working on, I think there is also room for Piastri. And we supported him. There should be some fidelity to the fact that we have literally invested millions and millions of euros to prepare him. So I don’t understand either, you should ask him.”
Alpine wanted to raise Alonso’s salary
Szafnauer says he knows the reasons for Alonso’s departure. According to him, it is indeed the problem of the length of the contract, and the Hungarian explains why he was not sure whether to extend the Spaniard by two years for age-related reasons.
“You would have to ask him, but for Alonso a long-term commitment to the team was very important. A two-year contract, even if it was a plus one. I think one of the keys for Fernando was the extension of the contract. He rides at a very high level and I told him that if he continues at this level, next year we will surely continue, we would be crazy not to do it.
“But, like everyone in life, there comes a time when age affects your psychological abilities, your eyes, your brain, your muscles, your nervous system… They decline. Schumacher, at 42, has “Been beaten by Rosberg. At 38, that wouldn’t have happened. And it happens to all of us, footballers, snooker players, cricketers – I live in England, when I lived in America I didn’t know anything about the sport. Cricket is not a very physical sport.”
“The main thing is how you judge the trajectory of the ball, how it bounces, how you move the bat a few centimeters… And, at a certain age, players are still good, but they can’t do like when they were younger. For that reason, we thought with Fernando it was a year, plus a year, plus a year. But he wanted guarantees of more time.”
There have also been rumors of disagreements over Alonso’s salary to pay, but Szafnauer assures that Alpine did the best they could: “I don’t know how much they’re going to pay him at Aston Martin, to be honest I don’t know. What I do know is that we offered him more money than we’re paying him now, which is logic.”
“It’s a figure that at the beginning he tried to negotiate, like everyone else, but in the end we reached an agreement, formally. But I don’t know, I’ve heard rumors that they would have made a very high bid. I don’t know if that was a deciding factor, ask him.”
“Every driver knew what was going on”
It all looks like a big mess from the outside: a revived Alpine/Renault project, with its double world champion at the time and everything flies away… including the potential promising replacement, on which the team bet on the long term.
“I did not expect it. When Piastri, for example, signed the contract with Alpine in November, he was there and knew nothing. I always saw that Laurent Rossi was trying to do what was best for the two drivers. With the contracts, with Fernando, who wanted to continue, with Oscar, who wanted a seat in 2023… and Rossi gave his agreement, Laurent worked very hard to find him this seat for next year.”
“At Alpine we were trying to do what was best for both drivers, not trying to play with either of them, being transparent with them. Every driver knew what was going on. Unfortunately, Alonso signed with Aston Martin and I understand why. But with Piastri, no.”
Szafnauer expected ‘more loyalty’ from Piastri
Wasn’t there a bit of naivety and collusion between Alonso, Piastri, Mark Webber and Flavio Briatore, people who were linked and close?
“Are you saying they may have shared information with each other? Look, I have no record of it, but this is Formula 1 and maybe in a few years someone will say they have evidence of shared information, I wouldn’t be surprised. I always tell everyone that in Formula 1 you have to act like everyone knows everything. That there are no secrets in these things “When you ask someone not to say anything, they act like everyone knows. And that’s how I steered my boat in Formula 1 for 25 years. And if sharing information s is produced, you should not be surprised.”
“However, I expected more loyalty from Piastri. He should have it with this team that took care of him, that took him this far and, above all, that in the last year put in a Formula 1 so that he was ready, so that he knew the circuits. I expected more loyalty from Oscar than he showed. I started in 1989 in Formula 1 and I had never seen anything like it.”
“And it’s not about Formula 1, it’s about integrity as a human being. It could happen in ice hockey or in football, whatever. But it’s not F1. He signed a paper, a document, saying that he would do something different. For me, if you say ‘help me, tomorrow I will help you’, in no case do you go back on your word. Certainly not.”
Many pilots show their interest
Without Piastri, without Alonso… What will be the future of Alpine? Everything indicates that Daniel Ricciardo could return to the team, two years after leaving it. Szafnauer still counts on Piastri but knows he has to prepare for his absence. The good news is that there is no shortage of potential candidates.
“Alonso is going to Aston Martin. We had a contract with Piastri and we need to understand where that takes us legally. We believe, and that’s why we issued this statement, that we have a binding contract. Let’s spend some time study where that takes us. And if Piastri is not in the car – and I think he will be – because Fernando is gone, I have about fourteen phone calls from interested drivers, because the Alpine seat is the best who stays.”
“No wonder so many people are calling me, but out of those fourteen, four will remain on the final list. And among them is Piastri.”
And if Piastri leaves, will Alpine F1 turn against the driver? Financial compensation for all that has been invested over the years?
“First of all, let’s see where we are legally with Oscar. We have a contract which says that we must support him in his career up to Formula 1 by investing a lot of money. But above all, we must take into account that the “Last year we put a single-seater on the track for him and he’s done 3,500 kilometres. We’ve done seven independent tests with it and it’s not cheap. Only the cost of one engine is 1,750,000 The mechanics, the team that managed these tests, the flights and the trips… We spent lots and lots of money on Piastri to prepare it for the future And, if that future is not with us , it is logical and fair that we seek compensation.”