While Ferrari were in the spotlight for negative reasons during most of the 2022 Formula One season, Alpine had their fair share of controversy too. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were less than the best of friends and Fernando’s radio call during the penultimate race weekend in Brazil said it all.
“I lost my front wing, thanks to our friend,” the Spaniard announced on team radio as the Alpine pair clashed several times during the opening lap of the sprint race.
Alpine teammate controversy
Ocon and Alonso subsequently finished P17/18 respectively in the sprint which set their qualifying position for the grand prix in Sau Paulo on Sunday.
Alonso’s 5 DNF’s mostly due to mechanical issues tipped the balance of the season in team statistics in Ocon’s favour. The French driver finished P8 one place ahead of Fernando, though Ocon suffered just 2 DNF’s during 2022.
By the end of round 6 Fernando found himself with a 26 point deficit to his team mate, through he progressively chipped away at this when his machinery didn’t fail him and finished the season just 11 points adrift of Ocon.
Vettel starts the drama
Yet the great drama at Alpine was created by outside forces. Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement at the final round in Hungary before the F1 summer break for team personnel.
Alpine had been negotiating for some weeks with Fernando Alonso to stay with the team for another F1 season then move on to sports cars. Alonso wanted a multi-year F1 deal and was clearly having discussions elsewhere.
The very day after the dust settled at the Hungaroring and just 4 days after Vettel’s revelation he was leaving Aston Martin, Fernando announced he would replace the German quadruple champion at the Silverstone based team on a multi year deal.
The following day, Alpine announced Oscar Piastri, their junior driver, as Fernando’s replacement only to be rebuffed with 90 minutes. Piastri took to twitter stating he would not be driving for Alpine in 2023.
Alpine lose 2 F1 drivers in 2 days
Clearly the young Australian had signed a deal with another team, something Alpine were clearly unaware off.
After various claims and counterclaims eventually the FIA contract recognition board (CRB) ruled in favor of Piastri’s right to leave the team.
Alpine believed their legal executive had drawn up a contract for Oscar Piastri to race for the Williams team in 2023 before replacing Alonso when he left to race sports cars. Yet the speed of the team announcing Piastri following Alonso’s shock resignation was questioned by TJ13 writers and commentators alike.
The French owned F1 team eventually recruited Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly to create an “exciting” all French driver lineup for next season. That said Gasly and Ocon have had their words in past years, and the relationship is unlikely to be less fraught than the Alonso/Ocon pairing has been.
Alpine rushed to name Alonso’s replacement
Team boss Otmar Szafneur is now philosophical about the result of Alpine’s inability to manage its driver lineup properly. Speaking after the Abu Dhabi test he opined, “The thinking that Oscar had a contract with us after the Contract Recognition Board saying something different was… it was a process we had to go through, we had to go through to the CRB and get resolutions.”
“You know that’s life, that’s why you have bodies that judge and two sides think differently. So we had to go through that.
“And, look, let’s see how we do next year. I’m happy that our driver pairing with Esteban and Pierre is better than it would have been if we would have won that case.
“More experienced, still young, and time will tell but I think faster.”
F1 rookies recent debuts not good
Szafneur’s realization is rather late coming given the results of rookie F1 drivers in recent years. This season’s rookie Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu scored just 6 points in 2022 compared to his team mate Bottas’ 49 in the same machinery.
Yuki Tsunoda faired a little better when a rookie in 2021. He scored 32 points to team mate Gasly’s 110.
Though clearly both Alfa Romeo and Alpha Tauri teams paid a heavy price given the capability of their car and the inability of their rookies.
Alpine are hoping to progress further into their “100 race plan”. And having clinched the fourth place in the constructors’ championship this year, they would have no hope of regular podiums and potential wins if they’d recruited rookie Oscar Piastri.
McLaren may rue their rookie recruit
McLaren may find themselves in a bind if Piastri takes a season to get to grips with Formula One and regret not having an experienced driver pairing.
When asked if Ocon and Gasly would form a faster duo than Alonso and Ocon, Szafneur replied, “That’s a good question.
“We had a great driver pairing this year, and Fernando did a fabulous job and he’s still super-fast.
“I don’t know when Fernando will raise his hand and say it’s time to go. I don’t know when that will happen, so it’s hard for me to say – I’m happy with our driver pairing.”
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Legends leave a mark.
— Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team (@AstonMartinF1) November 21, 2022