Fernando Alonso wanted a long-term deal at Alpine that the team was not offering. So when Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement and Aston Martin needed a new driver, the Spaniard made a quick decision to switch teams.
The process was much longer for Daniel Ricciardo, who on Wednesday confirmed McLaren had bought out the final year of his contract. The split stung the Australian’s pride but the decision — months in the making — was expected.
Ricciardo still wants to race in F1 but would consider a one-year sabbatical in 2023 if his options are limited for next season.
“If it made sense, yes. It’s the only racing I’m interested in. F1 is what I love and where I see myself, if I’m doing any racing,” Ricciardo said Thursday. “But if the stars don’t align and it doesn’t make perfect sense next year, and if it means taking that time off to reset, then that’s the right thing to do.
“That fire, that belief is still in me. I still love the sport. I haven’t lost that confidence in myself,” he added. “I want to do it competitively, I want to do it in the right place. I never want to just be a driver and make up the numbers.”
F1’s “silly season” of free agency hit a frenzied pitch at the start of F1’s summer break with Alonso’s defection to Aston Martin. That he’s still in demand at 41 years old is testimony to the remarkable longevity of his talent.
When Vettel finally decided his future, Aston Martin wasted no time reaching out to Alonso. Four days after Vettel’s announcement, Alonso was named Aston Martin’s driver for 2023.
“We started talking on that weekend briefly and (on) Monday morning we signed,” Alonso said. “I think the project is very attractive, obviously there is a lot of investment going on … engineers, designers, new facilities in Silverstone. I felt it was a nice project for the future.”
The decision stunned Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, who has said he learned of Alonso’s defection via the Aston Martin announcement. Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, where the F1 season resumes following its mid-season break, Alonso confirmed he did not alert Szafnauer.
He said he did give Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi and president Luca De Meo a heads-up, as well as his mechanics and engineers.
“It’s true, Otmar probably didn’t know anything,” Alonso said. “Otmar was not involved in the negotiations and probably Laurent or Luca didn’t call him before the announcement.”
Alonso hinted at frustration that Alpine, which has been developing F2 champion Oscar Piastri, was not offered a multi-year contract to return.
“For one reason or another we were not moving forward (since) a couple of months already and it seemed a logical move to me, because Aston was very willing to help me and trust on my abilities on track and off track,” he said. “We were moving around in different things (with Alpine) and we were not maybe agreeing on the principles.
“It’s not only what you agree in terms of the duration of the contract, it’s also the trust you feel and how you feel wanted in a place.”
Alonso, a two-time F1 champion viewed as one of the top talents, has made perplexing choices before. He quit powerhouse Ferrari in 2014 for three miserable years with McLaren. Now he’s snubbing a team that is fourth in the constructors’ championship for one that is ninth.
“For sure there are some risk on every decision you make in Formula One. No one has a crystal ball to guess the future,” he said. “Let’s see if we can short-cut that time as much as possible and make Aston Martin successful next season.”
Alonso’s move, the day after the Hungarian GP, left Alpine scrambling. The team said late the next day it was promoting reserve driver Piastri into Alonso’s seat for 2023. But Piastri then declined the offer and the 21-year-old Australian, described as “an incredible talent by Alonso,” has been linked to McLaren as Ricciardo’s replacement.
“I think Oscar is guaranteed a spot on the grid next year,” Ricciardo said. “I will support a fellow Aussie.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, said talks with McLaren were ongoing for “the last few months” and “a dead end” between the two parties was inevitable. Although he gave McLaren its first win since 2012 last season when Ricciardo won at Monza, he’s been underwhelming at McLaren and outperformed by teammate Lando Norris.
“It wasn’t dropped (on me), it wasn’t just a random call one day ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,’” Ricciardo said. “I understood that was a point of concern, because the results I was getting were not up to the level that we all thought they could have been.
“We tried to get through it and understand things with the car and me gelling with it. But there too many weekends where it was too much of a struggle,” the 33-year-old added. “It’s not the nicest feeling. But I can look back on it and hold my head high in terms of applying myself and trying to make it work. Sometimes you have to accept you tried and it didn’t work out.”
Ricciardo, who dominated reigning champion Vettel in their season together at Red Bull in 2014 and was once linked to Ferrari, doesn’t have great options for 2023. The Alpine seat Alonso vacated is currently the only opening, and Ricciardo does not have interest at this time to move to another racing series.
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