Formula 1 has gone into summer break but the drama does not stop around the pinnacle of motorsport. Following the announcement of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel's retirement at the end of the season and therefore, Fernando Alonso's move to Aston Martin, a battle is raging within Alpine with Oscar Piastri for the seat vacated by the 41-year-old Spaniard.
Alpine Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer, the former Aston Martin boss, spoke exclusively to El Confidencial about the atmosphere regarding the seat of the driver that will join Esteban Ocon next season at the former Renault team.
"We had a lot of conversations with Fernando, we wanted him to stay... Obviously he had his own conversations with Aston Martin... So it was the details of the contract that were put on the table for him that were more attractive to him there, than some of the details he had to discuss with us."
"A long-term commitment from the team was very important to Alonso. I think one of the crucial aspects for Fernando was the contract extension.
The Team Principal says that the terms offered to the double-world champion to continue with Alpine were influenced by the driver being 41 years old: "At a certain age, in any sport, players are still good, but they can't do it like they did when they were younger. So we thought with Fernando it was one year, plus one year, plus one year. And he wanted guarantees of more time."
Szafnauer proceeded to explain the uncertainty surrounding Alpine regarding Oscar Piastri's situation. After being officially announced, the Australian Formula 2 champion driver denied having the words under his name in the official statement made by Alpine and claimed that he will not drive for the team in 2023 as expressed.
"Regarding Piastri's statement, once we knew about Fernando with Aston Martin, as we were working with him [Piastri] for next year, and we saw that Alonso's continuity was not a possibility, we made the press release," he explained to El Confidencial.
"This still has to be decided. 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 put Oscar in one of our cars in 2023, which is no more than the reason we issued the press release."
"There is also an option for 2024 and the possibility for us to 'loan' the driver to another team. We wanted Fernando with us for one more year and then a 'loan' for Oscar for 2023. I have always said 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 car, on loan, if Fernando had stayed."
"But Alonso, for whatever reason - and I think I know the reasons, although you should ask him - he's going to Aston Martin. So, we started to finalize the deal with Piastri, and instead of giving him away, we decided to put him in our car. Hence, the statement."
He lashed out at Piastri claiming that the 21-year-old driver should have been more loyal to the team because of all the money and resources that Alpine has invested in his training and preparation.
"In our future, in that 100-race plan that we are all working on, I think there is also room for Piastri. And 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."
"I expected more loyalty from Piastri. He should have more loyalty to the team that has looked after him, and, above all, that has put him in a Formula 1 car for the last year to get him ready, to get him to know the circuits. I expected more loyalty from Oscar than he is showing."
"I started in Formula 1 in 1989 and I've never seen anything like this. And it's not about Formula 1, it's about integrity as a human being. It could happen in ice hockey or football, it doesn't matter. But you don't do that."
"The question is: Alonso is going to Aston Martin. We had a contract with Piastri and we have to understand where it takes us legally. We believe, and that's why we issued the statement, that we have a binding contract."
"Every driver knew what was going on because we always try to be loyal and transparent so we didn't play games with any of them. Unfortunately, in the end, Alonso signed with Aston Martin and I understand why he did it. But with Piastri, no."
The Team Principal was questioned on whether Daniel Ricciardo is an option to fill Fernando Alonso's vacant seat in 2023. To this, Szafnauer explained he has had: "fourteen calls from drivers who are interested."
"We're going to spend some time looking at where this takes us. And if Piastri is not in the car - which I think he will be - because Fernando is out, I have about fourteen phone calls from drivers who are interested, because the Alpine seat is the most valuable seat left. No wonder so many people are calling me, but out of those fourteen, there will be four left on the final list. And among them is Piastri."