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Alpine does well to disband youth academy

Alpine does well to disband youth academy

11-10-2022 10:03

By bringing in Pierre Gasly, Alpine has an all-French line-up for 2023, but it had better stop its own training. Indeed, Alpine rarely seems to choose its own talent.

Alpine training

The Alpine Academy is the showpiece of the French racing stable, but that youth training has lost some of its luster in recent years. Indeed, it has become clear that Alpine prefers not to make room for young talents in the first team, where it does not have a link with another F1 team to house talents. After F2, you are left to your own devices in this academy.

The academy dates back to when the F1 team was still called Renault and Cyril Abiteboul was still the team boss. Anthoine Hubert was a gem of the academy, but he perished in a tragic accident at Spa-Francorchamps. A French driver within a French training school, you could hardly think of it more beautiful.

Alpine was not shy of talent, however, as with Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou, it had two talents under contract in 2020 who will be on the F1 grid in 2023. Piastri became Formula 2 champion and Zhou finished third in that standings. Whereas Zhou was discarded by Alpine and given a chance at Alfa Romeo, the top training talent had to sit on the bench.

Piastri was not offered a seat at Alpine, which had in fact offered Esteban Ocon a contract until 2024 midway through that year and also had Fernando Alonso under contract. Why Ocon got a new contract that year is still a big mystery to many. Surely, with an F2 champion behind him, it is hard not to have a place.

Piastri sidelined

Yet Alpine got that done, and it apparently hadn't drawn up a plan B either. Piastri had to start as a reserve driver and communication then got worse and worse. There was no real contract from Alpine's side. It remained just promises, but Piastri's camp had increasing doubts.

So when McLaren knocked on the door of Mark Webber (Piastri's manager), the deal was soon done. For a talent from your own training to walk away to a rival is embarrassing and painful. Especially when you then do announce them yourself as a driver for 2023.

Alpine's plan was to give Alonso a new contract and stable Piastri at Williams. While making his debut with a small team is not crazy, it further antagonised Piastri, who had been sidelined for a year. The latter had already made his choice for McLaren as a result. However, Alpine also went too easy on Alonso. 'He'll probably sign for a year' they must have thought, but that proved a little different when he left for Aston Martin.

Quickly Alpine announced that Piastri would be the new driver, but this again showed that it is hardly in touch with its talents. Piastri is said to have indicated on several occasions that he would not be competing for the team in 2023, yet Alpine brought out this news. Piastri denied the deal, was vindicated in court and will drive for McLaren in 2023. Alpine was thus embarrassed.

Gasly is plan C

A dud for Alpine, which not only loses a great talent but now had to look for plan C. As the fourth team in the constructors' championship, you wouldn't expect to have to look for your third choice. The third choice turned out to be Gasly. A Frenchman and talented too, but the potential chaos it could cause internally between Gasly and Esteban Ocon is incalculable.

At Alpine, there are doubts about in-house training. If talents can walk away like that, it might not even be worth the investment. Besides, you could also ask what does Alpine itself gain from it at the moment? It is logical that Alpine, as a factory team, does not want to put a rookie in the car, so as long as there is no second team on the grid where a talent can be based, there is no point in starting an academy.

It is nice that Alpine wants to help young drivers in their road to the top, but after F2, that road in the Alpine track ends. So the French racing stable itself does not benefit from it, where other courses can provide a flow. It only costs money now and in the end a driver has to be plucked from another team anyway.

Victor Martins (F3 champion) and Jack Doohan (fourth in F2 championship) are now the best Alpine juniors, but not in the picture to have a real chance of getting a seat at Alpine. If Alpine does not find a partnership with another team in 2023, these drivers would be wise to look for another education, while it would also be better for Alpine not to keep investing if it does not yield anything.