In a year packed with big off-track news, Fernando Alonso’s shock defection from Alpine to Aston Martin must be one of the most surprising episodes of the 2022 Formula 1 season; and here is why they are getting together.
The great Spaniard made his comeback with Alpine (formerly known as Renault) that took him to his two F1 world titles for what we all imagined would be his final team in the top flight. But not so, just before the summer break – taking everyone by surprise – it was confirmed Alonso would move to Lawrence Stroll’s Aston Martin project.
Naturally, the anticipation of masses of headline fodder is building, as both are big characters and only time will tell if together they can co-exist in the Green paddock.
Whatever the case, Spain’s double F1 world champion will be in Green next year, and as Aston Martin bid farewell to their four-time F1 World Champion, 35-year-old, Sebastian Vettel they welcome 41-year-old Alonso.
Aston Martin performance director Tom McCullough explained why they chose Fernando and what it means for the team: “Watching him from the outside this year and last year, he’s particularly competitive and really wanting to do well. We see the job he’s doing at Alpine week-in, week-out.”
McCullough: Alonso is a very tenacious racer
“Really looking forward to getting him into our team,” continued McCullough. “To see what we can learn with him and how he can help continue to drive us forwards. I expect him to be there, week-in, week-out, getting the most out of the car in qualifying, racing really well.
“He’s a very tenacious racer: you saw last weekend in Zandvoort, at one point, the way the timing of the Virtual Safety Car and Safety Cars had gone, he found himself in the middle of a tight midfield bunch on older Soft tyres than others – but he still comes out looking pretty good.
“So yeah, real good racer, is one of those drivers who, over the years, has often scored maybe more points sometimes in the car deserves – and the real class drivers always do that,” added McCullough.
While one World Champ walks in the Aston Martin door, one walks out. Vettel quitting F1 at the end of the year was the catalyst that kick-started the Silly Season opportunities.
The German has been a shadow of the all-conquering driver of a decade ago, the Ferrari spell promised much but delivered no titles; the Aston lifeline was smart by Stroll but the cars they delivered for Vettel and Lance Stroll t9 drive have been awful.
Appropriately in a legend kind of way, the 2022 Italian Grand Prix on Sunday – where Vettel famously won his first F1 race back in 2008 – was his final Grand Prix in Europe; and now only six more races remain before the curtain falls on his illustrious career of 293 starts. He won 52 more times since that day at Monza.
Vettel has six more races as an F1 driver before he calls it quits
As for Seb’s final months with the team and indeed F1, McCullough said: “Sebastian has been great fun to work with for the last 18 months or so; very thoughtful, very strong on the engineering side and he has brought a lot to the team in how we operate and how we look at things.
“A very inquisitive mind, great fun to be with, but also understands lifting the team from a morale side of things really well. Yeah, so it’s been an utter pleasure with him and I’m looking forward to the next final few races with them.”
As for changes in Seb now that his F1 end is near, McCullough added: “He is the ultimate professional really, so I’d say no to that. Maybe he’s a little bit more relaxed in himself, but I wouldn’t see that in the engineering office and the way he drives the car. Sebastian is a bit of a machine really from a work side of things.”
While the arrival of Alonso would energise the team as most new relationships tend to do, how long the honeymoon will last, let alone the marriage, remains to be seen.
The future is easy to predict, if the car is good Aston Martin will be a happy place; if the car is half as bad as it is now, it could well end up being an almighty fiasco.