Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer says Aston Martin's announcement that Fernando Alonso will be racing for the team in 2023 was the first he heard of the news.
Aston Martin revealed on Monday that Alonso had signed a multi-year contract with the Silverstone-based outfit, the Spaniard thus leaving Alpine after a two-stint with the Enstone squad.
Although the 41-year-old F1 veteran was seen as a candidate for the seat that will be vacated at the end of the season by future F1 retiree Sebastian Vettel, Alonso's frequent reference to Alpine's project and to the team's strength suggested that the two-time world champion's future was firmly anchored to the French team.
However, while he first heard of his driver's move to Aston on Monday, Szafnauer had picked up a few tell-tale signs in Hungary that talks were likely taking place between Alonso and Aston Martin, even if the Spaniard denied at the time that he had signed a deal.
"It is the first confirmation I had," Szafnauer told The Race. "Obviously when we’re in the paddock there’s all sorts of rumours. I’d heard rumours Aston were interested.
"And once you hear they are interested there are probably discussions that took place.
"There were some other indications that discussions took place, like walking out of the same motorhome at the same time, all that kind of stuff, which I saw.
"But I was confident that even with the discussions – there’s nothing wrong with exploring – we were very close.
"The first confirmation I had was the press release. I did ask the question and was told, ‘No, no, no I haven’t signed anything’. So, I was a bit surprised."
Alpine has so far given no indication on who will replace Alonso next season, but the most logical choice would be for the team to promote reserve driver Oscar Piastri, in whom Alpine has heavily invested and continues to invest.
However, rumors are saying that Piastri, managed by former F1 driver Mark Webber, may have signed a conditional agreement with McLaren which the two parties would activate if the Aussie isn't handed a race seat with Alpine for 2023.
But Szafnauer is adamant that the young driver's contract with Alpine would not allow for such a scenario to play out, regardless of whether the French outfit promotes Piastri to F1 or not.
"I'm not privy to whatever pre-arrangements he has with McLaren, if any at all," Szafnauer said.
"But I hear the same rumours that you do in the pitlane. But what I do know is that he does have contractual obligations to us. And we do to him. And we've been honouring those obligations all year.
"And those obligations, last through '23, and possibly in '24, if some options are taken up.
"And our obligations to him this year was to be a reserve driver, to also put him in last year's car for a significant amount of time.
"We're well over half that programme of 5000 kilometres, which isn't insignificant, in last year's car, in preparation for a race next year.
"Also FP1s, simulation work, and we've been performing those obligations on both sides. So he's been performing, we've been performing.
"So therefore we do have a legal contract with him into the future for '23. And if an option is taken up, for '24.
" So I don't know what he's done with McLaren. Like I said, I'm not privy to that."