Otmar Szafnauer reveals how Aston Martin lured Fernando Alonso away from Alpine

Fernando Alonso was expected to be replaced by Oscar Piastri next season, but the Australian has refused to take the seat.

Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer has criticised Fernando Alonso’s handling of his departure, and affirmed that the Spaniard’s demands were simply too great.

Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from F1 at the end of the current season ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, leading to speculation as to who might replace him at Aston Martin.

Alonso is out of contract at Alpine at the end of this year, so eyes immediately switched to him, and Szafnauer knew it.

READ: ‘Baby-faced’ Oscar Piastri branded ‘brutally selfish’ like Fernando Alonso

The Romanian-American therefore asked the double world champion in Budapest if he had signed with anyone else, and his reply was no.

He was probably not strictly lying, as he is understood to have signed the contract during that weekend after meeting with Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll.

Nonetheless, Szafnauer only discovered via Aston Martin’s press release last week that Alonso was leaving, leading him to suggest that his driver is not an entirely honest person.

“I believe that I am a man of integrity and that if I commit to something, I will do everything I can to make it happen,” he told El Confidencial.

“I keep my word, it’s the way I’ve grown up, that my father passed on to me, but hey, I’ve understood that not everyone does things the same way.”

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Szafnauer took Alonso’s age into account when deciding whether to offer him a new deal, and he confirmed that he offered Alonso a two-year deal with an option at the end of the first one.

“[We offered Alonso] a two-year contract, although it was one plus one. I think one of the keys for Fernando was the extension of the contract. 

“He’s performing at a very high level and I told him that if he continued at that level, next year we would surely continue, we would be crazy not doing it. 

“But, as for everyone in life, there comes a time when age affects your psychological abilities, your eyes, your brain, your muscles, your nervous system.

“We offered him more money than we paid him now, which is logical. It was a figure that at the beginning he tried to negotiate, as everyone does, but in the end we reached an agreement, formally. 

“I’ve heard rumours that he’s been given a very high offer. I don’t know if it has been a decisive factor – ask him.”

Alonso had grown impatient at wating for a new deal, as well as not being offered a longer one, but one of the reasons for the delay may well have been Oscar Piastri.

Alpine were thought to be negotiating with other teams in a bid to get the reigning Formula 2 champion a seat on loan next season.

This way, they could retain Alonso and still have Piastri as part of their system even if he is driving for another team.

However, it was proving difficult to secure an agreement for him, so they held back on an Alonso deal in case the Australian needed the Alpine seat in 2023.

This would also explain why Piastri was not being loaned out in case he was needed at the French side in 2023, so both drivers were left frustrated.

As a result, Piastri’s manager, Mark Webber, is rumoured to have been speaking with McLaren in a bid to get his driver into the Woking-based team alongside Lando Norris.

Some sort of contract elsewhere has presumably been agreed because, when Alpine confirmed that thy had promoted the 21-year-old, he took to Twitter to confirm that will not be part of the Alpine setup next year.

Alpine are certain that they have a clause that obliges Piastri to join them next year, and Szafnauer reiterated that he has a contractual agreement with the driver.

“This is not final yet, it has yet to be decided,” stated the former Aston Martin boss.

“We have a contract with Piastri, which he signed in November, we have spoken to our lawyers and they have told us that this is a binding contract.

“So, part of that contract allows us to ride Oscar in one of our cars in 2023, which is nothing more than the reason we issued the press release.

“There is also an option for 2024 and the possibility for us to ‘lend’ the driver to another team. 

“We wanted Fernando with us for another year and then a ‘loan’ from Oscar for 2023. 

“I have always said it in all my press conferences, that Piastri would be in Formula 1 in 2023 and it is because I knew he could be in our car or in another, on loan, if Fernando had stayed. 

“But Alonso, for whatever reason – and I think I know the reasons, although you should ask him – is going to Aston Martin. 

READ: Daniel Ricciardo to join Williams or Alpine as he faces McLaren sack

“So, we started to finalise the agreement with Piastri, and instead of giving it up, we decided to put him in our car.

“The strategic plan is very good and Piastri knows it, better even than McLaren’s.”

After all Alpine have done for Piastri, Szafnauer is deeply disappointed at the lack of loyalty from his driver.

“We have supported him, there should be some loyalty to the fact that we have invested literally millions and millions of euros to prepare him so I don’t understand it either, you should ask him,” said the 57-year-old.

“We had a contract with Piastri and we have to understand where it takes us legally. 

“We believe, and that is why we issued the statement, that we have a binding contract, let’s spend some time studying where this takes us. 

“And if Piastri isn’t in the car – which I think he’s going to be – because Fernando is out, I have 14 phone calls from drivers who are interested, because the Alpine seat is the most valuable one left.”

Should Piastri join McLaren, Szafnauer has not ruled out the possibility that Daniel Ricciardo could return after his surprise departure in 2020.