Alpine boss, Otmar Szafnauer has admitted that Fernando Alonso’s age was a factor when agreeing a new contract with the Spaniard, who subsequently signed to Aston Martin.
As the Oscar Piastri saga continues – we haven’t got round to Piastri-gate, Alpine-gate or Webber-gate yet, but give it time – attention has turned to the man who appeared to kick-start the whole sorry mess.
On Monday, just days after claiming that remaining with Alpine was his “priority”, Alonso announced his shock signing with Aston Martin.
Shock, because it came as much of a surprise to Alpine as it did the rest of us.
Originally on a one-plus-one contract with the French team, it was presumed that, Piastri aside, based on his performances a similar deal would be agreed for 2023.
However, having previously admitted that he envisaged racing for three more season, while Alpine was happy to sign on the dotted line for 2023, bearing in mind the Spaniard has just turned 41, there was a certain amount of understandable hesitancy in agreeing to a longer term deal, and it is this that is understood to have caused the two-time champ to jump ship.
“We offered him a one-plus-one deal,” says Szafnauer, according to The Race. “It’s hard to predict the future, so we offered a one-plus-one deal.
“We discussed that with Fernando,” he adds, having told the Spaniard; ‘look, if next year at this time you’re performing at the same level, of course we will take you’.
“That could have carried on,” insists Szafnauer. “But I think he wanted more certainty – ‘independent of performance, I want to stay for longer’. I think that was the crux of the going one-plus-one as opposed to two-plus-one or three-plus-one or three years.”
Though not really needing to justify his team’s stance, Szafnauer says: “There does come a time where something happens physiologically to a driver, and you don’t have the same abilities you did when you were younger. I think it happened to Michael, I think it’s fair to say Michael Schumacher at 42 was not the same driver he was at 32 or at 35.
“It happens to other sportsmen,” he continues, “cricketers, with all due respect to all of you that play cricket, it’s not such a physically strenuous sport. It’s all about eye-hand coordination, moving the bat to the right millimetres. But at 32, 33, 34, the best batsmen in the world can’t do it anymore. And that’s because something happens to them.
“It happens to race car drivers too. So we’re in favour of, yes, if you’re performing to the high level for sure, we’ll keep you. But let’s do it one year at a time – and I think he wanted a longer duration.
“He’s a great, great driver, among the best I’ve worked with,” insists Szafnauer. “He still is competing at a very high level, he’s still fast, in tricky conditions, which really shows the driver’s skill, he’s even better, and we saw that this year.
“If that continues for another three years, great; great for Aston and Fernando. I don’t know when that will wane.”