Formula 1 pundit Peter Windsor fears Charles Leclerc’s frustration with his current situation at Ferrari could drive him to take a punt on a switch to Alpine.
Having finished runner-up to Max Verstappen in the 2022 standings, Leclerc has endured a testing start to the new season and has only one podium finish to show from the opening seven races.
Leclerc has struggled in the weeks since he set two pole positions in consecutive days on a sprint weekend in Azerbaijan, crashing twice in the same spot in Miami and incurring a costly grid penalty at his home race in Monaco.
At the last round in Spain, meanwhile, Leclerc could only recover to 11th after falling at the first stage of qualifying for the first time in four years.
Asked by a viewer during a recent YouTube stream if he can see movement between the current Ferrari and Mercedes driver line-ups in the coming years, Windsor believes Leclerc – along with Lewis Hamilton, whose current Mercedes contract is due to expire at the end of this season – is the one to watch.
And he has speculated that a determination to try something different, having joined Ferrari as a 21-year-old in 2019, could encourage Leclerc to join an emerging team like Alpine, who claimed a rare podium finish with Esteban Ocon in Monte Carlo.
He said: “The big figure there is Charles Leclerc. Without any doubt at all, the guy will be unbelievably frustrated and very annoyed.
“And he’ll be wanting either Ferrari to magically get their act together and the car to be really quick, or he’ll be thinking [about a move].
“He may even be thinking: ‘Alpine might be better than this lot in terms of my driving and doing what I know I can do. Look at them – top 10 every Q3 now.’
“He might be thinking like that. He might be that desperate.
“I’m not saying Alpine’s a massively bad thing to do – don’t take that out of context – [but] all I’m saying is he might be that desperate to leave Ferrari.
“Now, it could well be that Ferrari are slowly, slowly gathering some traction and some pace and the next upgrades look like they’re going to be really efficient in the tunnel and Charles will be working around that.
“But I think the problem with Charles is that he’s not got massively good driver management around him, Jock Clear excepted – and I don’t know how much involvement Jock’s got now.
“I’m shocked that he wasn’t able to get the tyres to work in Barcelona and I’m shocked that they allowed him to make that mistake twice in Miami. And he wasn’t brilliant at Monaco.
“I think he’s the key there. Let’s say he left Ferrari and went to Alpine, that would be quite interesting, wouldn’t it?
“I think George [Russell] will stay at Mercedes, for sure, and the only question there is how long Lewis will want to do it.
“And a bit like Charles, if Lewis still thinks there’s something around the corner that could potentially be really good, he’s not going to suddenly pack up and go. He’s going to think: ‘OK, ’23’s gone but ’24 is the big year.’
“If they do have a good car, that’s the beginning of his troubles because then he’s got George Russell to deal with and that’s not a great thing. That’s why George will never be in a Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen, for example.
“I think [Sainz] and George will be the most relaxed of those four [with] Lewis thinking, ‘If I’m not at Merc, I don’t really want to race.’ Probably. I can’t imagine him wanting to go to Ferrari really, unless it’s massive money.”
Despite Mercedes boss Toto Wolff recently admitting Leclerc is certain to register on the team’s long-term radar to replace Hamilton, Windsor feels a lack of obvious alternative destinations could force Leclerc to look further down the grid.
But he fears that Alpine’s contract-related dramas with McLaren-bound Oscar Piastri last year could encourage the team to remain loyal to Ocon and team-mate Pierre Gasly.
He added: “Charles will be thinking… Alpine. What else?
“Let’s say it’s not Red Bull or Mercedes obviously because there’s no slot for him – and he absolutely for sure wants to leave Ferrari just to breathe different air and see what he can do and there’s nothing to lose if you go with a lesser team and everything to gain – I would guess Alpine would be at the top of his list.
“I can’t see him wanting to go to AlphaTauri and be [in] a sort of B-team Red Bull alongside Max and if it was McLaren or Alpine, I don’t know.
“He might go to McLaren maybe, like Oscar Piastri. I think he might go to Alpine, but I think they’ve got contracts with both of those two guys for the next two years so it’s a bit moot anyway.
“And I suspect Alpine – more than any other team on the grid right now – are going to be honouring contracts, thank you very much…”