Alpine was in a bit of a pickle when Fernando Alonso opted to leave for Aston Martin in 2023 and then their reserve Oscar Piastri decided McLaren was where he wanted to make his F1 debut.
It was a frustrating position for the French team, not least because they have the fourth best car on the grid and are leading the charge in the hunt for the top three teams, and should therefore be an attractive proposition.
Luckily Alpine had good options despite the end of the season and set about pursuing their main target, Pierre Gasly, who I’m told has long been on their wish list for the future.
READ MORE: Gasly to race for Alpine alongside Ocon in 2023
The Frenchman was contracted to the Red Bull family until the end of 2023 but Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer tried his arm and called AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost to test the waters .
“I said to Franz: ‘Look, we have a hole and we can see a future in our team for Pierre. You only have him for a short time and then I don’t know what the future holds for him there, because he’s been at Red Bull and back,” Szafnauer says when we exclusively discuss Gasly’s arrival.
Otmar Szafnauer “very happy” to sign Pierre Gasly with Alpine on a multi-year contract
“Franz was dismissive, which did me good! He said: “Pierre is a great pilot, I don’t want to let him go”, which is great, that was what you had to hear. I said to Franz, ‘Thanks, that’s what I was expecting but I’ll call Helmut [Marko, Red Bull Motorsport Advisor] as well. He was good about it and said ‘sure, go for it.’
“Helmut was more receptive to the idea and we started discussing how this could happen. In Pierre we have a fast driver who has good experience.
EXCLUSIVE: Gasly joins Alpine, leaving the Red Bull family and its relationship with Ocon
Red Bull hold off after sorting out a substitute
Red Bull could see what a big opportunity Alpine was for Gasly and were keen not to stand in the way of him given that the likelihood of him being promoted to their factory team in the future was slim to non-existent.
But they needed to find a quality driver to replace Gasly, who they kept in the squad partly because he was a solid and suitable option to replace Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez if needed.
Once it was clear Mercedes reserve Nyck De Vries was available, they agreed terms with Alpine to terminate Gasly’s contract a year early so he could join Alpine on a multi-year deal.
READ MORE: AlphaTauri announces Nyck de Vries for 2023 alongside Tsunoda
“Securing a driver like Pierre who is both experienced and fast is important for the team,” said Szafnauer. “After we got that hole he was at the top of our list – but we didn’t know if he was available, so making him available so to speak and putting everything in place is a good feeling.”
Szafnauer admits he didn’t know Gasly well on a personal level but had followed his career with interest and appreciated how he handled his demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso in 2019.
“I saw him win the GP2 championship [in 2016], not by far but in F1 and looking like me,” says Szafnauer. “Afterwards, I watched closely how he reacted to the ups and downs at Red Bull, being promoted and then demoted.
RISE OF THE ROOKIE: How the GP2 title and Super Formula success paved the way to F1 for Pierre Gasly
“I was a competitor at the time and I was impressed with the way he came back to Toro Rosso and his performance. It didn’t get to him. It seemed like that was motivating him – that in itself m impressed.
Gasly and Ocon put past tensions behind them
Gasly and Ocon have known each other since they were six years old, but haven’t always had the easiest relationship, with the tension between the two growing as they climbed the motorsport ladder.
Not ideal for F1’s new partnership. But I have spoken to them both independently and neither thinks it will be a problem to work side by side as they see previous issues as water under the bridge.
Szafnauer has experience dealing with drivers who don’t get along, having had to step in on several occasions when Ocon and Sergio Perez clashed at Force India – but he doesn’t anticipate the same issues with his new pairing.
LONG READ: Otmar Szafnauer on taking the reins of Alpine, the team’s 100-race success plan and his departure from Aston Martin
“It may take a little management, but not a lot,” he says. “They’re both professionals, we’re all adults, and once you’re in a situation, that’s what we have to do, we have to work together for the good of the team, as professionals. . I’m sure it will happen.
He adds with a smile: “I have a good experience [of managing drivers who don’t get on] and I know some of the techniques we’ve used in the past, what worked and what didn’t, and how we should go about it in the future.
Pierre Gasly confirmed at Alpine for 2023
Alpine cracking with a plan of 100 races
By signing Gasly, he draws a line under a difficult few months for the drivers and allows Alpine to turn the page and open a new chapter in their 100-race plan to become contenders for race and championship victories.
Szafnauer has been in the midst of restructuring since joining the team earlier this year – and while he has made progress, he admits they still have a ways to go. Signing Gasly means he can fully focus on this strategy.
EXCLUSIVE: Alpine boss Rossi on the loss of Piastri and Alonso, the search for a new driver and a bright future ahead of him
“The plan is starting to look like what I want,” he says. “Implementation will take time, there are still things I want to implement, but now that I have been here for six or seven months, I have a better understanding of what is needed, the benefits of team and certain areas that need to be enhanced.
“That’s not to say the people there aren’t competent – they are. It’s just a few skills that are missing, they’re not there yet – so areas that need to be improved – and it takes time to bring in the right people with the skills that we don’t have, but I will.
He adds: “We have two great drivers in Esteban and Pierre and we have around 80 races to start winning and challenging for the championship and being regular podium contenders – and I see them both as part of that. travel.”