How Aston Martin pulled off its shock deal with Alonso F1

As the F1 paddock filled up at the Hungaroring on Sunday evening, all eyes at Alpine were on a bit of a vacation over the summer break and what were to be brief talks to secure a new contract with Alonso.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer seemed relaxed as he agreed with Alonso’s remark earlier in the weekend that it would probably only take 10 minutes to sort things out.

“Very simple,” he suggested of how he saw the negotiations unfolding.

Szafnauer insisted that the material issues at the heart of a contract (including the length of the deal) were all sorted out; and it was only a matter of detail. But there was an intriguing pause when asked whether or not money was one of the main areas on which the two parties remained far apart.

He replied, “Not just Fernando. All the drivers I have negotiated with, it was about money. And other things too.

“But yeah, for some reason they want the most money and we want to pay the least. And then we end up in some sort of unhappy place for everyone, or a happy place that everyone’s ready to sign.

Unbeknownst to Szafnauer, the wheels were already well in motion elsewhere. In fact, Alonso would not pursue any negotiations with Alpine as he was already ready to move to Aston Martin.

After a weekend of intense efforts by Alonso and Aston Martin to keep the deal a secret, it was finally announced to the full team and the public on Monday morning.

When Vettel revealed his intention to retire, Aston moved quickly to secure the best possible replacement.

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Behind the scenes, it is understood that Aston Martin and its owner Lawrence Stroll had worked hard for several days to put together a package good enough to convince Alonso to commit already, without needing to drag things out until the summer.

It was a drastic change of plan for the team. For many weeks Aston Martin had been focused on chasing Sebastian Vettel, but knew the German was weighing whether or not he wanted to continue in F1.

Aston Martin stuck with Vettel for as long as possible but, when the four-time world champion finally informed the team hierarchy on the Wednesday before Hungary that he wanted to retire, they knew they couldn’t. sit back and risk ending up with a second-rate choice because other better options have been purchased elsewhere.

That’s why, rather than keep Vettel’s retirement intentions a secret until much later in the campaign, the wheels were put into motion to get the word out as quickly as possible. This had the double benefit of lifting a weight off Vettel’s shoulders, but also making it pretty clear to all the drivers on the grid that there was now a clearly vacant spot.

Indeed, Aston Martin played its game by flushing out the driver market to find out who was available and what was the interest. Those who wanted the seat would obviously be in touch; and Alonso was one of them.

For the Spaniard, whose talks with Alpine were a bit deadlocked and needed to be sorted out over the summer, he suddenly found himself in a situation where he moved on from a potential new contract at Alpine to one definitely at Aston Martin. As he said on Thursday when asked if Aston Martin was an option: “All teams are an option, as long as they haven’t signed two drivers.

“My priority is to be with Alpine because, you know, 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 haven’t, you know, completely sat down and gotten things done. So again, everything continues.

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Alonso had publicly stated his intention to stay with Alpine beyond his current contract, but was interested when Vettel's Aston Martin seat opened up.

Alonso had publicly stated his intention to stay with Alpine beyond his current contract, but was interested when Vettel’s Aston Martin seat opened up.

Picture by: Alpine

In retrospect, the use of this word “probably” is intriguing. It is understood that at this stage there had been no formal discussions with Aston Martin’s senior management. But, once the Vettel news broke and the possibility of a change became a real option, things moved incredibly quickly.

From Aston Martin’s perspective, it was a no-brainer to do what it took to convince Alonso to join – knowing full well there was a narrow window of opportunity before he could possibly be lost elsewhere. Let’s also not forget that there is a bit of history between Stroll/Aston Martin and Szafnauer….

There may have been more readily available driver options for the team elsewhere – like Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg – but they didn’t match the kind of ambitions team owner Stroll has for his team to win. world championships. And in the end, while Aston Martin’s competitive fortunes on track this year aren’t great, it was the ambitions of the Silverstone teams that probably spoke the loudest in turning things around for Alonso to finally commit. .

No other team is undergoing the kind of increased investment and infrastructure improvements like Aston Martin at the moment – which has new sponsors, more technology partners and is pushing hard with its new factory and wind tunnel plans.

For Alonso, a man driven to win in F1 and not just run in midfield, he knows well that money still buys a lot in the sport and he can see the potential in what Aston Martin has planned for the future. . Alpine has already been through its major investment phase since Renault originally returned to take over the team as a works team, and now it could well be a case of diminishing returns.

Of course, Aston Martin could well be a big bet for Alonso who, at 41, has probably made the final roll of his F1 career if he really wants to get back to the top. But it has been crystal clear in Hungary, in a few prophetic words that apart from the big three teams at the moment, every driver is betting on finding the right place.

“There’s no crystal ball you can choose,” he said of being in a winning car. “I guess now that with this set of regulations it looks like Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes: they are the only teams capable of winning races.

“So if you have an opportunity in 2023 with these three teams, you will try to join forces. But if there is no opportunity, you just have to trust some projects, that they want can -be more competitive next year. That’s all I hope for.

Alonso knows Aston Martin is a gamble, but he's confident its significant investment in infrastructure makes it a more likely winning proposition than Alpine

Alonso knows Aston Martin is a gamble, but he’s confident its significant investment in infrastructure makes it a more likely winning proposition than Alpine

Photo by: FIA Pool

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