F1 broadcaster Mark Gallagher has said Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin shows the “brutal world” of driver contracts hasn’t disappeared.
Alonso stunned the Alpine team during the summer, signing a deal to join the Aston Martin team for 2023 just days after Sebastian Vettel announced he would retire from Formula 1.
Alonso had been expected to continue with Alpine, having returned to Formula 1 with the Enstone-based squad in 2021, with both sides indicating a willingness to continue – although Alpine appeared to be dragging their heels about handing Alonso a contract offer.
Having signed a long-term deal with Aston Martin, Alonso also appears to have given himself a potential lifeline for a post-racing career with the team.
With Alonso taking the decision over his future out of Alpine’s hands, shocking the F1 world with an abrupt switch to another team, Gallagher believes Alpine were somewhat naive in how they treated the two-time World Champion.
Gallagher, an experienced broadcaster and F1 author, as well as a former press officer at Jordan before a stint with Cosworth, pondered over Alonso’s switch when he appeared on the GP Racing podcast.
“We’ve had the Alonso thing happen, and carelessness? I’m not sure,” Gallagher said, when asked about the Alpine/Alonso situation.
“Perhaps naivety. I think you can get wrapped up in believing what everyone says is the truth. If a driver is constantly sitting in press conferences, saying ‘I love driving for this team’, you can start to believe the driver is really committed to you, irrespective of what the contract says.”
Gallagher compared the situation to that of Michael Schumacher in 1991, when the German made his F1 debut with the small Irish outfit, before Schumacher abruptly switched to Benetton for the very next race.
“I mean, the reality is when Michael drove for Jordan at Spa in 91, we had a great weekend,” Gallagher said.
“He enjoyed himself, we loved having him. From a purely human perspective, you would have thought that we were going to continue together. The reality is there are other forces in play. And, in the case of the Vettel retirement announcement, that was always going to trigger a big move.
“Alonso, faced with the prospect of not having a long-term commitment, he’s now been in the team long enough to realise he’s very unlikely to score anything substantive there. So there’s a window of opportunity. He knows Lawrence Stroll likes having a big name and the team is good for the Aston Martin PR, good for the brand – it means whether they win, lose or draw, you’re going to be capturing lots of attention.
“So, you know, Alonso has played a blinder. You have to remember you’ve got none other than Flavio Briatore behind him, one of the architects of the Schumacher/Benetton years. So there’s a lot, there’s a kind of a separate world of drivers and contracts and managers who look at things from a very different perspective, it’s purely about business.”
Gallagher pointed out that, for the drivers, it’s important to separate their business and career interests from the personal relationships formed from racing with individual teams.
“It’s about ensuring the longevity of drivers’ careers, it’s about maximising the income from that because you don’t know how long your career will last,” he said.
“And therefore, if you can put another 10, 15, 20 million in – that’s going to make a big difference in your life later on. And also for your kids.
“You are talking about drivers now earning the kind of money that secures not only their lives, but the generations that follow them if they’re lucky enough to have kids. So the reality is, there’s a lot on that business side that has got nothing to do with the niceties of the human relationships in teams.
“I think what’s happened this summer is we’ve had a stark reminder that that brutal world hasn’t disappeared.
“I think there’s been a slight softening of expectations around the driver market in recent years, because it’s been relatively stable and the moves have been quite well-planned.
“There’s been a lot of long-term driver contracts put in place, if we think about Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen. So, essentially, we’ve had a lot of stability – this summer has been a stark reminder that it’s still a cut-throat environment.”
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