BUDAPEST, Hungary – It’s little wonder Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll acted so quickly to secure Fernando Alonso’s services for 2023.
By signing Alonso he has replaced one world champion, Sebastian Vettel, with another, just four days after the latter announced his plan to retire from Formula One at the end of this season. Alonso was far and away the best candidate available to Stroll – only Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen would have represented a more meaningful statement of intent.
It’s easy to forget looking at the championship order this season, or last, but Stroll has set wins and championships as the medium-term goal for Aston Martin. Away from the circuit he has invested heavily in state-of-the-art facilities at the team’s Silverstone base and has poached big-money talent from other teams, such as highly-rated Red Bull technical guru Dan Fallows. He’s done nothing by half measures.
Stroll has now managed to tempt two of the modern era’s best drivers to join his team in the space of 24 months, which gives a good indication of just how seriously people should take Aston Martin’s long-term ambitions.
This deal makes sense for all involved
Vettel’s retirement created a perfect scenario for all three parties. For Alonso, it makes him the face of one of the most ambitious teams on the grid. His immediate future of him with Alpine seemed uncertain as long as Formula Two champion Oscar Piastri was waiting in the wings. While Alonso’s talent would always command attention if another seat was available, it was also fair to wonder whether he would return from a second F1 sabbatical.
Now he might have found himself a place to stay on the grid for the foreseeable future. Patience will be key, but Alpine is only a few places up the competitive order compared to Aston Martin right now. The Renault factory outfit has consistently fallen shy of a place at the front of the grid since returning in 2016 and it is hard to feel optimistic it will get back there any time soon.
Alonso returned to F1 in 2021 to win a world championship one day and Aston Martin has just as good a chance of creating that opportunity for him as Alpine down the line. From a marketing standpoint it seems like a step forward for Alonso too – while Renault’s F1 team rebranded to the lesser known Alpine name, Alonso is now the star driver of one of the most iconic car brands in the world.
For Aston Martin, it’s an incredible deal and one which should make other teams in the paddock sit up and take notice. Stroll must be wondering how this option fell into his lap so perfectly. Although Vettel is a four-time world champion, most in the paddock would rate Alonso as the superior talent to Vettel, so it feels like an upgrade. Vettel is one of the greats of the modern era but since his dominant four straight titles at Red Bull he has never quite seemed the same driver. Even at Aston, he was prone to mistakes, such as the one which saw him spin out of practice ahead of qualifying last weekend.
Alonso could not be more different – he almost never makes a mistake. Considered by many in F1 to be the most well-rounded talent on the grid, Alonso’s ability to get the most out of his machinery is remarkable and he will be key in the team’s plans to move up the order. Alonso is a relentless and brilliant racer and on track there are nothing but upsides to this signing.
Lawrence’s son, Lance Stroll, who will be Alonso’s teammate next season, might be the only person not thrilled with the deal. Over the Hungarian Grand Prix there was a feeling Lawrence would never sign a driver who will, in all likelihood, completely out-perform his son di lui, but this signing shows he puts business and the objectives of the team first. Regardless of how the head-to-head record looks, the younger Stroll arguably has the safest race seat in F1 right now and it’s hard to see him ever leaving unless it’s of his own accord, so it is not fair to view Alonso’s arrival as a threat to his F1 career.
It also solves a major headache for Alpine and Piastri. The French team faced a potentially messy situation in trying to have its cake and eat it next season, keeping Alonso for another year while trying to find another team to take the hugely talented F2 champion. It was a weird and potentially dangerous tightrope to be walking as it risked Alpine squandering all the investment it has put into Piastri’s career so far if it could not find him a race seat.
Alonso leaving has created a clear and easy pathway for the Australian to be Esteban Ocon’s teammate next season. McLaren boss Zak Brown is a known admirer of Piastri’s talent and he would have commanded huge attention from other teams, but Alpine can now tie down their man to a very significant F1 deal for the foreseeable future.
What now for Schumacher and Gasly?
Vettel wanted Mick Schumacher, son of boyhood hero and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, to replace him, but that option always seemed unappealing for Mercedes customer Aston Martin. Schumacher has been underwhelming in his year and a half in F1 and would not have justified the complications that came with a team that buys Mercedes engines trying to sign a driver from Ferrari’s stable.
Schumacher’s future on the grid now looks as unclear as ever. Haas is still not convinced he’s a long-term prospect, given his inconsistent form and the expensive crashes from earlier in the year, and team owner Gene Haas and F1 boss Guenther Steiner are expected to take their time assessing all options available to the team next year.
Before Alonso’s move opened up the Alpine option, Piastri and his manager Mark Webber had been chasing the seat likely to be left vacant at Williams by Nicholas Latifi next season. It’s also hard to see Schumacher landing there, with Mercedes-backed Formula E driver Nyck de Vries now an obvious candidate for the team just weeks after he drove the team’s F1 car in practice ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.
The triple header of races after the upcoming August break, in Belgium, Netherlands and Italy, could be crucial for Schumacher in convincing Haas he deserves a second F1 contract, but it might already be too late for him to make that case.
Alonso to Aston is also bad news for people who want to see Pierre Gasly escape the purgatory he finds himself in at AlphaTauri now that a promotion back to Red Bull looks unlikely to ever happen. Had Aston Martin been able to strike a deal with Red Bull, Gasly would have broken free of those ties – Carlos Sainz has thrived since doing the same a few years ago and now drives one of the best cars on the grid.
It would have been an expensive move for Stroll for a much less accomplished talent than Alonso, so it is little wonder he did not enter a bidding war with Red Bull over the French driver’s services. However briefly it existed as an opportunity, it feels like a big one to have passed Gasly by.