The timing of Aston Martin’s announcement that scooped the prized signing of Fernando Alonso was something of a shock – but the move itself makes a lot of sense, as F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto explains.
When Sebastian Vettel revealed on Thursday ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix that he would be leaving Formula 1 at the end of the season, he sent the driver market silly season into overdrive.
His decision caught Aston Martin a little off guard. Sure, they knew there was a strong chance he would leave, but they had told the four-time world champion they wanted him to stay on for a third year and had thrown everything at convincing him to do so. When he told owner Lawrence Stroll last Wednesday night that he was off, the billionaire accepted Vettel’s decision and is believed to have got straight on the phone to Alonso, whom he has known for many years.
Why did Aston Martin want Alonso?
When Lawrence Stroll rebranded Racing Point as Aston Martin, he wanted a big-name to headline the relaunch. It was important for the brand – and the prestige of the project – to have someone who was a proven talent and whose signing would be seen as a statement of intent. He got his man in Vettel, one of the most successful drivers in F1 history.
That strategy has proved to be a success, as while the team haven’t delivered the on-track results Stroll demands, Vettel’s presence at the team has had a positive impact on the operation and, more crucially, given them the gravitas to secure impressive commercial backing and further investment to strengthen the overall value of the business.
Continuing that strategy, then, when Vettel handed in his notice, was a no-brainer. Alonso was the only viable option. With Alpine keen to retain the double world champion for one more year, having brought him back into the sport for 2021, and Stroll not wanting to look like he wasn’t in control of the situation by having an empty seat just sitting there, the billionaire swooped quickly and got a deal done inside five days.
Alonso will give Aston Martin the gravitas Stroll craves, while his immense talent and ability to consistently get better results than his car deserves is something that is worth paying big money for. Stroll has shown already that he’s prepared to spend big for the right people. Luring technical chief Dan Fallows from Red Bull is a great example. Doing so for Alonso didn’t require a second thought. In Stroll’s view, it’s an investment that is a necessity for this project.
The double world champion, who recently turned 41, will be a good mentor for Lawrence’s son Lance. He will be expected to comfortably outperform the Canadian because of his impressive talent. A signing of his calibre will also provide more motivation for the team working on the ground in the factory and at the track, demonstrating that Stroll is serious about making the Silverstone-based operation a powerful team in Formula 1.
Why did Alonso leave Alpine?
Alonso wanted more than a one-year deal with Alpine, the Spaniard believing that he deserved that given the work he had put in over two years to help the Enstone team, whom he has spent three separate stints with in F1, emerge as the fourth best team this year.
Alpine were undecided on what to do. They wanted Alonso to stay next year, but it’s believed they wanted a one-year deal so they could draft their highly-rated reserve Oscar Piastri into the car in 2024, alongside Esteban Ocon, whose deal lasts until the end of that season.
Their arrangement with Piastri, it is believed, was that they had to offer him a race seat somewhere in 2023 or they would lose him. So they were looking at loaning him out somewhere else on the grid in 2023 to get some experience under his belt before stepping up.
They would then offer Alonso an attractive deal to lead their sportscar programme, which the French manufacturer sees as a big part of their future, and are thus pumping significant investment into for 2024 and beyond.
The plan didn’t go very well, with no team keen to train Piastri up only to give him away after one season. This dragged on and Alonso was left waiting. He was also growing increasingly frustrated at Alpine’s unreliability this season, which he feels has robbed him of a significant haul of points and left him trailing team mate Ocon in the standings. So when Vettel left, Alonso had some leverage.
Stroll offered Alonso everything he wanted in terms of length of contract (two years with an option), financial package and the potential for the Spaniard to turn things around and be seen as a saviour in the twilight of his career. Alonso simply couldn’t say no – and a deal was quickly thrashed out. I’m told it was done and dusted on Sunday night in the Hungaroring paddock.
Alonso will know that he is risking a step-back in performance. He’s swapping the fourth-best team for the ninth-best currently. But he will also know that Aston Martin essentially have a blank cheque and are throwing everything at making this the best car on the grid. Next year’s machine will be the first where Fallows will have had some oversight.
A new factory will come online next year, a state-of-the-art wind tunnel not long after. He will be the team leader, with the operation putting all their faith in him and listening to the way he wants to do things.
And while you might say that, at 41, he won’t be around long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labour at Aston Martin, Alonso will tell you different. He is a different animal and will feel he can race on for years, operating at a level good enough to fight for wins and the championship. Whether or not that is the reality is irrelevant. Alonso wants to be around – and wants to make this project a success and Stroll wants a big name who can make the difference on track. This is the perfect match.