The dominoes fell, but definitely not in the way Alpine envisioned. For a while there, the Formula One constructor appeared to have an enviable talent depth, what with two-time champion Fernando Alonso and promising Esteban Ocon occupying seats and upstart Oscar Piastri waiting in the wings. Amid all the uncertainty surrounding the 2023 season, however, the Groupe Renault-owned team has found itself in dire straits; all too suddenly, it no longer has a second driver it can confidently look to as a vital cog in its push for competitiveness.
Timing — or, to be more precise, bad timing — played a role. Armed with an expiring contract and unable to view the medium term with favor, Alonso went about exploring his options elsewhere. He might well have refrained from engaging in wanderlust had he been offered a deal longer than the single guaranteed year that principal Otmar Szafnauer was willing to make. In any case, he knew that his days with Alpine were numbered, what with Piastri ready to make the jump to the big show. Meanwhile, the latter could not wait for confirmation of an assured seat, and thus surveyed the horizon.
Given the benefit of hindsight, Alpine may well have acted differently and given the slot to Piastri outright. Forget that the move would have painted it as cold-hearted and unmindful of motorsport history. After all, Alonso was himself not wary of negotiating behind the scenes, as history has shown more than once, and as his latest course of action again underscored. Instead, it hedged its position, playing both sides supposedly for minimum risk, only to wind up losing everything it had. The fact that it hitherto spent a lot hosting its top prospect in its Driver Academy serves to rub even more salt on its wounds.
It’s bad enough that Alpine will lose Piastri. What’s worse is that McLaren — with which it is currently locked in battle for fourth in Constructors Championship standings — appears to be getting him. To be sure, the operative word is “appears,” because, all things considered, the courts may well decide outcomes. Except is, for Alonso, celebrating a transfer to Aston Martin while vacationing in the Greek Isles, and after having left all and sundry in the dark.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.