The silly season is well and truly under way. We started the season with the shock announcement that Sebastian Vettel was retiring, then that Fernando Alonso was taking his seat at Aston Martin, followed shortly by an announcement that Oscar Piastri would take Alonso’s seat at Alpine, which the rookie declined.
What is going on? Everyone was almost certain that Piastri would be driving for Alpine given his contractual obligations, but no. It seems there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at Alpine. To understand things a little better, we need to understand the manner of Alonso’s departure.
Fernando Alonso’s Departure
Alpine didn’t find out that Fernando Alonso was leaving the team until the announcement was made. As F1 journalist Adam Cooper tweeted, “Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer confirmed the first the team knew of the news was when Aston Martin’s press release came out. As of Sunday night and their last discussions with Alonso, the team thought he was staying.”
For Alonso’s part, rumours have circled that he didn’t get the two-year extension he was hoping for, only being offered one year.
Alonso himself stated that this departure was due to Aston Martin looking like a team with promise, “This Aston Martin team is clearly applying the energy and commitment to win, and it is therefore one of the most exciting teams in Formula 1 today.”
“I have watched as the team has systematically attracted great people with winning pedigrees, and I have become aware of the huge commitment to new facilities and resources at Silverstone,” Alonso said.
“No one in Formula 1 today is demonstrating a greater vision and absolute commitment to winning, and that makes it a really exciting opportunity for me.”
Insiders (that is to say, rumours) said that Aston Martin were aware of Vettel’s decision to retire for some time and asked him to hold off on the announcement until a replacement was secured – that replacement being Alonso.
It seems to be no secret that Alpine have made some interesting decisions as it relates to their drivers and these decisions have ultimately led to unsatisfied drivers (to put it lightly).
The Piastri Saga
Shortly after Alonso announced his departure, Alpine were quick to announce via Twitter that Oscar Piastri would be driving for them in 2023. “After four years as part of the Renault and Alpine family, Reserve Driver Oscar Piastri is confirmed to a race seat alongside Esteban Ocon starting from 2023.”
Initially, nobody thought anything of it. It was the obvious choice. But Piastri dropped a bombshell on the F1 community that nobody saw coming. Piastri responded via Twitter, “I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.— Oscar Piastri (@OscarPiastri) August 2, 2022
Alpine responded quickly, “We believe we are legally correct in our statement but don’t have anything further to say.”
Given the finality of Piastri’s statement, it has been rumoured that he and his manager, F1 legend Mark Webber, have secured him another seat elsewhere. This has generated even more rumours. The most likely seat he can grab, according to the mob (and some experts), is McLaren.
McLaren has a problem with Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian driver has not met expectations, McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said as much. The problem with getting rid of him is that Ricciardo is committed to driving for McLaren in 2023 and he has a contractual right to do that. However, he may move teams voluntarily or he may retire voluntarily (unlikely).
The BBCs Andrew Benson tweeted, “This raises further questions about Daniel Ricciardo’s future, because if Piastri says he will not be racing for Alpine, he clearly believes he will be racing elsewhere. And the only team that has a seat that might be considered at least as good an option as Alpine is McLaren.”
This raises further questions about Daniel Ricciardo's future, because if Piastri says he will not be racing for Alpine, he clearly believes he will be racing elsewhere. And the only team that has a seat that might be considered at least as good an option as Alpine is McLaren— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) August 2, 2022
Alpine have been caught with their pants down and Otmar made a statement to Autosport, “I’m not privy to whatever prearrangements he [Webber] has with McLaren, if any at all.
“But I hear the same rumours that you do in the pitlane. But what I do know is that he does have contractual obligations to us. And we to him. And we’ve been honouring those obligations all year. And those obligations last through ’23, and possibly in ’24, if some options are taken up.”
Otmar added, “So if I don’t know what he’s done with McLaren. Like I said, I’m not privy to that. Oscar and his camp are considering their options, whatever that means.”
There may be a possible legal battle after this drama. Alpine may try to demonstrate that Piastri received tutelage from them and therefore could be entitled to Piastri’s services as a result. That means if Alpine were successful. no matter what deal Piastri has sorted, he would be obliged to race for Alpine.
Again, these are just rumours but Otmar stated that Piastri has indeed received tutelage, “…our obligations to him this year was to be a reserve driver, to also put him in last year’s car for a significant amount of time. We’re well over half that programme of 5,000km, which isn’t insignificant, in last year’s car, in preparation for a race next year.”
This story is far from over.
“I think that when Toto went back and watched the series, I think he felts a little bit embarrassed about some of it,” said Martin.
Season six of Drive to Survive has focused on the behind-the-scenes drama that fans don’t have access to rather than on-track narratives.
“I think the issues we’ve had over the last few years were just lack of preparation and knowledge of certain things,” Norris said.
There are no medals, podiums, or world ranking points at stake, just a playground for some of the biggest names in sport.
“Start of the season, we need to be a little bit cautious,” Ricciardo said.