Gasly was confirmed on Saturday as Fernando Alonso’s replacement at the Alpine team in 2023, after the Frenchman was released from his contract at AlphaTauri by Red Bull.
Gasly and Ocon were friends when they were youngsters, and their families were also close. However, they had a falling out and have had an uneasy relationship since they both made it to F1.
When Gasly first emerged as a candidate for the Alpine seat, many paddock insiders were quick to dismiss him as an option because of the seemingly unlikely scenario of the two men working together.
But, asked by Motorsport.com about the current state of the Gasly/Ocon relationship following Saturday’s news, Szafnauer said that the team has talked the situation through with both drivers.
“We made an informed decision,” he said. “And that means talking to the entire team, including Esteban beforehand, to make sure that if we did make a decision, it’s a team sport and we have to be able to work together and optimize.
“Esteban was very supportive, Pierre as well. They’re professionals. And they have no issue we’re working together. And hopefully the friendship will rekindle – they were friends at one point. But from a professional perspective, they’re both very happy to work with each other.
“They’ve known each other for a very long time, and they’ve raced together. They’re about equally experienced, they’re both very fast, both ambitious, so that I think they’ll work well together.”
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, and Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1, in the Press Conference
Photo by: FIA Pool
Szafnauer made it clear that Gasly ticks all the boxes that Alpine had with regards to a replacement for Alonso, who will drive for Aston Martin next season.
“As everyone knows, we had a seat available after or around the summer break,” he said. “And then we started looking around as to who would be a best fit, and we had some criteria to work to.
“The three things we wanted were naturally speed, a fast driver, one with experience, and also youth at the same time. And adding all three things up there aren’t many people that have all that and Pierre definitely does.
“We thought he was a great fit for us. So we put him on our shortlist, and then went about getting it done.”
Pierre Gasly, Alpha Tauri AT03
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Szafnauer said things happened quickly after Alonso’s departure was confirmed and it soon became clear that Oscar Piastri was determined to go to McLaren.
“It was maybe a week or so, not even?” he clarified. “I mean, shortlist first. When it looked like Oscar wasn’t 100 percent certain with some of the contractual issues that we had then we started working on a shortlist of who else it could be, and Pierre was on it.
“And one of the reasons was that he was going to become available and in ’24, not for ’23. And then it became quite evident to us that, like I said before, he’s got youth, experience and speed, and that’s difficult to say for a lot of drivers that are still within F1, even.
“Even the other two that you mentioned [Alonso and Piastri] didn’t have those things. So we’re fortunate to secure Pierre, and look forward to working with him.”
Szafnauer insisted that it was easy to deal with Red Bull, despite the time it took for Gasly’s release to come together.
“Well, there are a few elements of all that, and but what I can tell you is that it was really straightforward working with Franz [Tost]Helmut [Marko] and Christian [Horner] in securing Pierre’s future,” he added.
“They were very correct and true to their word and did exactly what they said they were going to do, and it was a pleasure working with them.”
When asked if it was a relief to get the deal done Szafnauer said: “It’s great going forward. This is for next year. So we still have this year to focus on, which we need to do, we need to do a good job.
“But it’s good to know that next year is sorted and we can get on with this year, and also prepare for next.”