Oscar Piastri: How Alpine have likely lost their own young star to McLaren for the 2023 season
Why is Oscar Piastri set to leave Alpine after spending three seasons with them on their junior programme? Fernando Alonso has opted to join Aston Martin, and the Alpine management team have shown an inability to be aware of a situation that took them completely by surprise. Nigel Chiu takes a look how Piastri and Alpine have got into this bizarre set of circumstances and what’s next in the saga.
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Piastri is last year’s Formula Two champion and only missed out on a seat on this year’s F1 grid because there was no room for him.
This is a driver who won the Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula Three and Formula Two championships in his rookie seasons to storm his way through the ranks towards F1.
He’s highly rated by many and is by far the most exciting young prospect since George Russell and Lando Norris joined F1 in 2019.
Alpine signed Piastri to their junior programme in 2020 and have given him tests in an F1 car. He is the team’s reserve driver for this season.
When Fernando Alonso suddenly announced he will join Aston Martin next year, it was widely expected that Piastri would replace him, which is exactly what Alpine confirmed in their press release on August 2.
You may be asking why Piastri hasn’t taken the seat, given how Alpine have been so loyal to him and are the fourth best team in F1 at the moment, only behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. It doesn’t make any sense, on paper.
Oscar Piastri (AUS, BWT Alpine F1 Team), F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2022 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Image credit: Imago
Why Piastri is set to defect Alpine
You have to put yourself in Piastri’s shoes for a moment. Alpine wanted to keep their current driver line-up of Esteban Ocon and Alonso for 2023.
Piastri had no reason to think Alonso was going to leave the team, and Ocon is already signed up to stay at Alpine until 2024.
Report say Williams offered Piastri a contract, but he decided to decline them. Instead, Piastri and his manager Mark Webber began talks with McLaren as Daniel Ricciardo continues to underperform.
Although Ricciardo is contracted to be at McLaren next season, it appears the Woking-based team want to replace him because he’s not met their expectations over the last 18 months.
There has been talk about Piastri being a free agent from July 31 this year, which may or may not be true.
Is it a coincidence that Alonso announced his move to Aston Martin on August 1? Possibly.
Nobody knows when Piastri put pen to paper with McLaren, but he either signed as a free agent or knowing that he could do so without Alpine holding him back with any contract they have.
Image credit: Getty Images
Alpine’s press release on August 2 to “announce” Piastri as their driver may well have been a power play, a move which may not work out.
If Piastri and the world knew Alonso was joining Aston Martin, perhaps none of this would have happened.
But, the reality is, Piastri didn’t want to spend another year on the sidelines because you can quickly be forgotten in F1 and he couldn’t afford another season as a reserve driver.
In terms of the pecking order, McLaren and Alpine are nearly level so it’s still a positive move for Piastri.
Perhaps he was offered a bigger paycheck too, but the biggest factor seems to be he wanted to guarantee a seat on the grid well before this saga came about and probably began talking to McLaren a few months ago.
Image credit: Getty Images
Why did Alonso leave Alpine?
Alonso was offered a one-year contract extension, as well as a switch to Alpine’s World Endurance Championship and Le Mans 24 Hours project from 2024.
It’s reported that the two-time F1 world champion wanted at least a two-year deal instead, something Aston Martin were willing to offer plus some more cash.
Sebastian Vettel’s retirement on August 28 was soon followed by Alonso’s announcement four days later as the German’s replacement.
Perhaps Alonso wasn’t happy with the way Alpine have treated him too and his character of not backing down caused him to swiftly change teams, to the shock of Alpine and team principal Otmar Szafnauer who had no idea about the move.
Things have finally quietened down since Piastri’s tweet and everyone is awaiting McLaren to announce they have signed the 21-year-old to race alongside Britain’s Lando Norris next season.
Why haven’t we heard anything? McLaren likely want to ensure Ricciardo has a future in F1 first before saying anything.
Image credit: Getty Images
If Alpine believe they have a contract with Piastri for next year, which could be the case, there is a chance the saga could end up in court if McLaren have also put pen to paper with the driver.
However, Piastri surely wouldn’t have tweeted that he will not drive for Alpine in 2023 if he wasn’t sure about his contract situation.
“If the CRB [F1’s contract recognition board] says ‘your licence is only valid at Alpine’, and then he [Piastri] says ‘that’s great but I’m never driving for them, I’ll just sit out a year’, then you’ve got to go to the high court for compensation,” said Szafnauer.
F1 is political at the best and worst of times, but this situation is almost unprecedented, especially for a driver who is seen as a potential future world champion.
Remember this too, if the saga isn’t resolved before the next round, which is the Belgian Grand Prix from August 26-28, it will be very awkward when Piastri has to drive in the opening practice session for Alpine as part of F1’s mandatory practice rules in 2022.