Early yesterday morning Fernando Alonso sent shockwaves through the world of Formula One by announcing his plans to join Aston Martin for the 2023 Formula One season. This decision has sent the projected driver’s market for next year into silly season, disrupting many plans that before seemed as good as done. This move directly impacts several teams on the grid and could cause several more surprising contract decisions.
First, let's analyze why Alonso made the decision in the first place. It was widely accepted and thought that Alonso wasn't going to sign another contract to continue driving for the current team he was with, alpine. However, the retirement of Sebastian Vettel late last week opened up a new Ave for the veteran and makes sense from the perspective of the team as well. Aston Martin, previously known as racing point and Force India, was purchased by Laurence Stroll shortly after the team entered conservatorship due to the financial struggles of its original owner. Part of the rebranding into Aston Martin has been huge amounts of investment in an attempt to attract larger and more lucrative sponsors. With the second Aston Martin seat being held by Lance stroll, Lawrence's son, the team needed a veteran driver that gave the team credibility, stability, and an image to warrant sponsors joining.
This is why the team signed four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the first place. His experience, name, and presence on the team allowed them to go out and secure large lucrative sponsorship deals, while Vettel’s experience and feedback helped the team run more efficiently. When Vettel announced his retirement suddenly last week, Lawrence stroll and the team were left without that veteran presence necessary to help build the team internally as well as necessary to keep the large sponsors that they had signed. With limited options this late in the season, Lawrence struck quickly and poached Fernando Alonso from Alpena by offering him a multiyear contract, while it is thought that Alpine was only offering him a one-year contract.
The reasoning behind that decision is straightforward enough, but the decision for Alonso to move has implications beyond that that are much less clear. Alonso moving means there is now an open seat at Alpine, and still an open spot at Williams. Up until the announcement that Alonso was switching teams, it was thought by the majority of the F1 community that Alpine reserved a driver Oscar Piastri would be sent on a loan contract to Williams so that he would be participating in Formula One until they needed him to replace either for an end to Alonso or Esteban Ocon. well, with the departure of Alonso happening earlier than expected, the logical thing for Alpine to do would be to promote Piastri and keep him on the team, as no other good driver options exist from within Formula One (if you ignore the speculation that Daniel Ricciardo might leave—he has already had ill-fated time with the team that currently operates as Alpine, and they would be unlikely to hire him back).
As mentioned above, a deal with Oscar Piastri and Williams was thought to be “as good as done,” but now we know why the deal had not been actually signed yet—Apline didn't want to make anything final until they knew what was going on with Fernando Alonso. This situation leaves the biggest question mark over Williams. If they still plan to part ways with Nicholas Latifi at the end of this season, they have no clear easy option to replace him with. Williams could pull Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes reserve driver in to fill the position, but this is not a great long-term solution. The only other logical option for the team would be Logan Sargeant, a current formula two driver sponsored by the team. The problem with Vandoorne would be a lack of experience or real proof that he has what it takes to be a Formula One driver, and while Logan Sargeant has been doing well this season in Formula Two, Williams would have preferably liked to wait so that he could mature and develop further before bringing him up to Formula One.
There is no easy answer for Williams, who certainly has drawn the short straw in this transaction. The next few weeks will be full of speculation as we go through the summer break, and the entire Formula One world will be sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the Williams announcement to see just how they managed to get out of this tough situation.
Zachary Bryson is a graduate of Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Economics and a Minor in Entrepreneurship. He is currently a JD candidate at Elon University School of Law, Class of 2023. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @ZacharySBryson.