Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer does not rule out a return of Daniel Ricciardo to Enstone if the team is not able to keep Oscar Piastri. It is still hoped that the young Australian will take the place vacated by Fernando Alonso for the coming season but in reality, it is pretty much a done deal that Ricciardo will be at Alpine and Piastri will be at Mclaren.
Alpine believes it has a valid contract to that effect but Piastri, however, is said to have agreed on a move to McLaren. For originally it looked as if Alpine would loan him to Williams for 2023, which is why Piastri was looking for alternatives with manager Mark Webber.
The sudden availability of Alonso’s cockpit has complicated things for all parties, and if Piastri does end up going to McLaren – as it now looks – Alpine will have to look for a replacement. But Szafnauer insists that after Alonso’s move to Aston Martin was announced on Monday, he “received a bunch of calls from other potential drivers”. But Alpine will be taking legal action to secure Piastri first.
And if Ricciardo is ousted by McLaren to make way for Piastri, he is one of the most attractive options on the market as an experienced multiple race winner, despite his poor form at the Woking team. This website broke the news first some time ago READ MORE ON THIS STORY
The potential problem is Ricciardo’s past with Renault. He was hired for the 2019/20 seasons for big money to lead the team into the future, but decided early on in his second season with the team to leave and join McLaren for 2021 but Szafnauer thinks comeback possible.
Ricciardo’s decision did not go down well in the Renault camp two years ago, and although the team management has changed – Cyril Abiteboul is long gone and Szafnauer and Laurent Rossi are now at the helm – it could still be an issue.
Asked about Ricciardo by “Motorsport.com”, however, Szafnauer compares the situation to Alonso’s ability to return to former teams. For Alpine, he says, the priority anyway is to find the right drivers to help the team with its plan to get back to the top in 100 races.
“If you look at Fernando, for example, he comes and goes – as do other drivers,” Szafnauer says. “And I don’t think that’s a problem.”
“I think we have to focus on the plans we have for the next 89-88 races. We need to make sure we complement that plan with the best possible driver and there are some options for us,” the team boss said. “And we will put the best driver next to Esteban.”
Szafnauer also stresses that the team could work well with Piastri if he does end up taking Alonso’s place – despite the potential damage his apparent intention to move to McLaren would do to the relationship.
The Alpine team boss compares the situation to that at BAR when he was part of the management team and Jenson Button looked set to move to Williams for 2005. Button eventually stayed with the Brackley-based team after a legal battle.
“I’ve been around long enough to see how these things actually play out,” says Szafnauer. “When Jenson signed with Williams and eventually stayed with BAR, it was no problem. Of course I know Oscar is different from Jenson.”
“But I’ve seen it happen before where a driver signed incorrectly with another team and therefore had to drive for the team he originally signed with. And that was absolutely no problem. Jenson did a great job at BAR and never ended up at Williams.”