Last Thursday, Sebastian Vettel shocked the Formula 1 world by announcing his retirement at the end of 2022.
With a vacancy at Aston Martin for 2023, the rumour mill immediately went into overdrive, with Daniel Ricciardo, Nyck de Vries, Oscar Piastri and Fernando Alonso just a few of the possible successors that were reviewed.
While Alonso seemed nailed on to stay at Alpine for another season, Aston Martin shocked the the F1 world on Monday by announcing the Spaniard as Vettel's replacement.
But why is Alonso going to Aston Martin, a team that currently sits ninth in the Constructors' Championship with 20 points, and leaving Alpine, who sit fourth in the standings with 99 points on the board?
It might not look logical on paper, but in practice, there are several factors that make his choice a lot more understandable.
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Piastri knocking on the door
Alpine's highly-rated reserve driver and reigning Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri had been widely tipped to succeed Alonso at the Enstone squad.
With a new contract for the Spaniard, who would not have been satisfied with a one-year deal, the Australian would probably have had to remain on the sidelines with Alpine for another two years.
The situation at Alpine for next year was further complicated by the team's announcement on Tuesday that Piastri would replace Alonso for 2023 - followed a couple of hours later by Piastri's denial that any such deal had been agreed.
However, before this became known,Piastri's looming presence will undoubtedly have played into the negotiations between Fernando and Alpine.
Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi had recently suggested that Alonso would have a place in the manufacturer's 2024 LMDh program World Endurance Championship, implying that the Spaniard would have only one more year in F1 and then be moved on.
With Esteban Ocon under contract until 2024, Alonso was somewhat dismissed as a seat-warmer for Piastri, who had been linked with a one-year loan to Williams before returning to Alpine for 2024 in place of Alonso.
Until last Thursday, Alonso had little room for negotiation, because where would he go? Then came the news about Vettel - which Fernando may have known for some time - and suddenly he was back in a very strong negotiating position.
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Big ambitions at Aston Martin
Although Alpine have gradually improved in recent years, and seem to be best of the rest in F1's midfield this year, the expected step towards the top teams has still not come.
When the team formerly known as Renault was rebadged last year, Rossi said the team should be challenging for victories in 100 races' time, or by 2025.
At the same time, a similar plan has been drawn up at Aston Martin. The team's wealthy owner Lawrence Stroll has big plans, having already pumped hundreds of millions into the operation, and securing the signature of Sebastian Vettel last season, along with several senior technical personnel. However, this has so far failed to yield a great leap forward.
Construction is currently underway on a brand new factory at Silverstone, with which the team hope to take the step to the absolute top - ambitions that will also have struck Alonso.
A few months ago, Rossi told RacingNews365.com that it was not necessary to upgrade Alpine's wind tunnel for the time being, even if it may not be a state-of-the-art facility.
Perhaps two-time World Champion Alonso sees more potential at Aston Martin.
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Alonso still performing very strongly
This season, 41-year-old Alonso is showing that age is just a number. The Spaniard is still performing very well and although his car currently prevents him from competing at the very top, he could certainly do so in more suitable machinery.
Many a Formula 1 fan longs for that and Lawrence Stroll will want nothing more. Even if Aston Martin may not quite reach the top level, with Fernando they have someone who can squeeze every last bit of performance out of a car.
The question is how long he can maintain this level of performance, but it is clear that he is still performing at the highest level at the moment.
A wealth of experience
We will never hear Papa Stroll and everyone at Aston Martin say it out loud, but he'll also understand that his son may not be cut from the finest racing cloth.
You need an experienced force next to someone like Lance, and especially if you want to bring a team from midfield to the top, you need an absolute top player.
Names such as Piastri, De Vries, Albon or other relatively young or inexperienced drivers, together with Stroll, do not exactly form a duo with which you could compete for a world title.
With Alonso, Aston have brought in a huge wealth of experience, which can take the team further than many other replacements for Vettel could have.
For the love of money?
When Alonso looks at his bank account, he probably won't be too disappointed. No, Fernando and the next seven generations of Alonsos could live on that for a while, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to squeeze the most out of it in the autumn of his career.
At Aston Martin, of course, they had recently had a financial windfall with Vettel quitting. That resulted in a nice increase to the budget that could be used to persuade Fernando.
Lance will also be relatively cheap, because in principle he can also be satisfied with some pocket money from his Dad.
All parties are happy: Alonso has another challenge for at least the next two years and Stroll senior has his figurehead for Aston Martin, without having to worry that the Saudi shareholders and sponsors will be bothered by Vettel's increasingly prominent social conscience.
In addition, Alonso will also run into some old acquaintances at Aston Martin. Martin Whitmarsh, for example, who was Team Principal during Fernando's first stint at McLaren, as well as other leaders such as the Head of Communications, Matt Bishop.
A perfect match? Time will tell, but at least F1 fans can enjoy Alonso's race craft and cunning for a while longer.
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