Alpine: Alonso's age a deterrent to multi-year F1 contract

© XPB 

Alpine says Fernando Alonso's age and the fear of a potential waning performance in the future justified the single year contract offered by the team to the Spaniard.

Ahead of last weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, it appeared highly probable that Alpine and Alonso were set to extend their collaboration into the 2023 season.

But the announcement of Sebastian Vettel's retirement from F1 offered Alonso an unexpected Aston Martin alternative and threw a wrench into the Alpine works.

At 41, Alonso is showing no signs of either his skills of his motivation abating. Indeed, the Spaniard publicly recently stated that he could see himself racing on in F1 for many more years.

But Alpine opted for a pragmatic approach to its contract talks with Alonso, signaling that it wanted to keep the two-time world champion on board, but on the basis of a "one plus one" deal, meaning one season and an option for a second.

Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer believes that specific provision may have proved crucial in Alonso's decision to jump ship and join Aston Martin where a solid multi-year contract was on offer.

"We offered him a one-plus-one deal," said Szafnauer. "It’s hard to predict the future. So we offered a one-plus-one deal.

"And we discussed with Fernando that, ‘look, if next year at this time you’re performing at the same level, of course we will take you’. And that could have carried on.

"But I think he wanted more certainty – ‘independent of performance, I want to stay for longer’."

"I think that was the crux of the going one-plus-one as opposed to two-plus-one or three-plus-one or three years."

While Alonso sees himself - and perhaps rightly so - as a driver still at the top of his game, Szafnauer says that a downturn at some point is inevitable, citing Michael Schumacher's return to Mercedesat the age of 41 as a case in point.

"There does come a time where something happens physiologically to a driver, and you don’t have the same abilities you did when you were younger," the American argued.

"And I think it happened to Michael – I think it’s fair to say Michael Schumacher at 42 was not the same driver he was at 32 or at 35.

"And it happens to other sportsmen – cricketers, with all due respect to all of you that play cricket, it’s not such a physically strenuous sport. It’s all about eye-hand coordination, moving the bat to the right millimetres.

"But at 32, 33, 34, the best batsmen in the world can’t do it anymore. And that’s because something happens to them. And it happens to race car drivers too.

"So we’re in favour of, yes, if you’re performing to the high level for sure, we’ll keep you. But let’s do it one year at a time – and I think he wanted a longer duration."

Szafnauer praised Alonso for performing at such a high level at 41, but is unsure his ability can be sustained.

"He’s a great, great driver – among the best I’ve worked with," said Szafnauer.

"He still is competing at a very high level, he’s still fast, in tricky conditions – which really shows the driver’s skill – he’s even better, and we saw that this year.

"If that continues for another three years, great; great for Aston and Fernando. I don’t know when that will wane."

As a potential incentive to keep Alonso in the Alpine family, chief executive Laurent Rossi threw into the mix the prospect of the Spaniard headlining Alpine's sportscar efforts in the World Endurance Championship in the future.

Szafnauer says by no means did that offer equate to a pension plan by Alonso.

"We had conversations with Fernando and so did Laurent, regarding ‘when you do finish in Formula 1, we would love for you to continue in the family and go do other racing with Alpine’," he explained.

"So it wasn’t really a surprise to Fernando because he agreed to do that and thought it was a good idea.

"The question was when will that happen? But when it does happen, going to Le Mans, he was absolutely happy to continue down that road."

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter