As TJ13 reported earlier today it appears Formula One team Alpine were ‘mugged’ by Aston Martin recruiting their star driver. The team took hours to release a tweet thanking and congratulating Fernando and are vague about his replacement. Compare this response to the one from Aston Martin released minutes after Vettel’s Instagram post telling the world he was retiring.
Alpine have no back up plan to replace Alonso despite huge rumours this season that their junior driver and F3/2 champion Oscar Piastri was set to join the F1 grid in 2023.
It was widely believed that Piastri would serve his F1 apprenticeship somewhere other than the French team – like at Williams – then step up in a year or so as did Esteban Ocon. The problem for Alpine is there are questions over whether Ocon is ready to shoulder the senior driver role given his consistency needs to still improve.
An experienced driver alongside Ocon would be ideal for Alpine for a season while Piatsri serves out his rookie year at Williams. But if Alpine are to recruit Piastri they need to move quickly to confirm him in a show of confidence.
There is a strange possibility lurking in the shadows which would solve the experience gap they’ve lost with Alonso. However the team would have to offer this driver a two year nailed on contract meaning Piastri could join them in 2025.
Daniel Ricciardo left the then Renault team in 2020 to join McLaren but his last season with the French outfit was a success. He finished 5th in the drivers title race with 119 points while his team mate Esteban Ocon languished in P12 with around half the points of the Australian.
Ricciardo worked well with the team and helped develop the car from its poor 2019 performance. Renault finished 5th in the constructors race in 2020 a place ahead of the stumbling Ferrari team.
Renault consultant Alain Prost explained Ricciardo’s decision to leave Renault on the fast lane podcast.
“He was a little bit afraid by the project, for sure. We had to keep the same engine, that meant almost no change to the chassis, or very little,” he said.
“We know we have a little deficit to the Mercedes engine, so it was more the project rather than the ambience.
“I read a lot about Daniel, how he’s not going to be world champion or whatever, it’s always difficult in a career to make a good choice.”
Yet interestingly there seemed no animosity from Prost towards Ricciardo’s decision to join McLaren. Carlos Sainz had just been announced as a Ferrari driver and his seat at McLaren would be coveted by several drivers. He had to make a quick decision.
”I’m very close to the drivers, you can imagine being an old racing driver, and with Daniel it was a big connection,” Prost explained.
“Daniel was fantastic for the team, it was a dream, the ambience, never complaining, it was very good.”
Prost of course won 3 of his 4 world titles with McLaren and concluded on Ricciardo, “At least he’s happy, he’s in a good team.”
Renault team boss at the time Cyril Abetoul didn’t take Ricciardo leaving as well, though he has been posted away from the F1 team elsewhere in the Renault group.
Ricciardo is struggling at McLaren as the car just doesn’t suit his driving style and top 4 or 5 teams like Alpine rarely recruit rookies.
Further Zak Brown earlier this year publicly humiliated his Australian driver when asked whether Ricciardo would see out his contract in 2023.
“I spoke with Daniel about it. We’re not getting the results that we both hoped for, but we’re both going to continue to push.
“I don’t want to get into the contract, but there are mechanisms in which we’re committed to each other, and mechanisms in which we’re not.”
Carlos Sainz commented when leaving McLaren their car design was difficult to drive. Ricciardo joked on hearing this “thanks mate for telling me”. The Alpine in contrast looks a more compliant car to drive and could better suit Daiel’s driving style than his current Woking designed steed.
The French media site AutoHebdo is reporting Ricciardo is the shock contender to replace Alonso at Alpine.
Daniel Ricciardo may well feel his time is up at McLaren and he’d be better served returning to Renault/Alpine where clearly he was loved and appreciated.
Given the summer break has just begun, Ricciardo has time and space to explore his options away from McLaren next season more easily. The longer Alpine leave it to announce Piastri, the more unlikely he will be Fernando’s replacement because they want an experienced driver – or don’t want a rookie.
Ricciardo to Renault on a two year contract solves Zak Brown’s problems with the Australian and Alpine’s need to get Piastri on the grid in a smaller outfit to serve his rookie apprentice.
UPDATE: Since publication of this article, despite being offered a drive by Alpine Oscar Piastri posted on 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.
— Oscar Piastri (@OscarPiastri) August 2, 2022
Clearly the young Australian has a contract elsewhere to drive in Formula One next season and most likely with McLaren. Given McLaren and Alpine are fighting it out for P4 in their year’s constructors’ title it would make little sense if Piastri had signed for a lower order F1 outfit.
Alpine’s team boss asked asked whether a return for Ricciardo could happen and he likened it to Situatiuons where Alonso has left a team and then returned later.
“I mean, if you look at Fernando, for example, he comes and goes, and I think that happens to other drivers too,” said Sznafaeuber
“And I don’t think that’s an issue at all. I think what we need to focus on is, like I say, the plans that we have for the next 89-88 races.
“We’ve got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us. And we put the best driver in next to Esteban [Ocon], so that we can move forward towards what we’ve been planning.”
So if Zak Brown is intending to give Ricciardo his marching orders, Ricciardo could well return to the team where he finished P5 in the 2020 F1 driver’s championship.