The Alpine Formula One team conspired to turn what should have been a fairly simple ‘silly season’ into a comic farce. It was expected Fernando Alonso would remain with the team leaving just Williams and Haas with potential vacant seats for 2023. However the decision by Sebastian Vettel to retire from the sport at the end of the season set in motion a chain of events that now sees Alpine, Alpha Tauri, Haas and Williams looking for new drivers for the coming season.
Alonso wanted 2 more years at Alpine, but the team were offering him just one and then some sportscar opportunity. So the Spanish double world champion jumped for Vettel’s seat at Aston Martin when the former quadruple world champion announced his retirement.
Fernando is believed to have a two year deal with the British marque and an option for the third.
Alpine responded to Alonso’s announcement by declaring their academy driver, Oscar Piastri, would replace the Spaniard. Yet just 90 minutes later via twitter Piastri made it clear he would not be driving for the French F1 outfit in 2023.
Behind the scenes, McLaren had agreed a deal with Piastri to replace the underperforming Daniel Ricciardo and despite Alpine’s protestations the FIA arbitration body ruled Piastri was free to leave Alpine.
Alpine have since targeted Red Bull’s contracted driver Pierre Gasly, however RBR declared he would not be allowed to leave unless the FIA granted Colton Herta from IndyCar an F1 super license.
Gasly’s career at Red Bull has stagnated and it is probable despite Herta’s super license being refused, he will be realised to Alpine at a price, while the Red Bull team swoop for the much acclaimed Nyck De Vries.
But how did Alpine lose control of their prized academy driver Oscar Piastri?
Alpine F1 CEO tells all
In a tell all to Germany’s Auto-Motor-und-Sport, Alpines CEO – Laurent Rossi – reveals the machinations that went on behind the scenes with Piastri’s contract.
“He chopped off the hand that fed him and played with us because some draft contracts were not submitted in time,” Rossi bitterly reveals.
“We provided him with a 2021 car for 5,000 test kilometers, of which he had already received 3,700 by August. The program started in February 2022 together with Alonso and Ocon, so that we have a basis for comparison.”
“Oscar had full access to the team and to all documents and data channels.”
“He drove in the simulator and took part in all briefings. Oscar will be the best prepared driver in Formula 1 history. Since the beginning of the season, we have been working to find him a cockpit for the next two years. At the Miami Grand Prix, we then agreed with Williams. The seat rehearsal was already planned.”
Alpine embarrassing admissions
However the Alpine management failed to realise Piastri who won the F3 championship in 2020 and then followed this up the next season by winning the F2 title was aggrieved. A select few drivers have ever achieved this feat.
Promising the young Australian a reserve drive for Alpine or at best a back of the grid Williams drive in 2023 was clearly not enough. Particularly when you compare the route his fellow Alpine academy driver Gyuanu Zhou had been afforded.
Zhou laboured in Formula 2 for 3 years from 2019 to 2021. He finished P7, P6 and P3 in each of those seasons, yet Alpine found him a seat in Formula One with Alfa Romeo.
Rossi now reveals the contract Alpine had with Piastri.
“In November 2021, we drew up the option that we had according to the contract with our junior academy. The framework agreement regulated the legal but still non-binding cornerstones of the future contract: He is a reserve driver in 2022. We will prepare him for his task as a Formula 1 driver in the best possible way. And we will find a cockpit in Formula 1 for him in 2023 and 2024.”
Legal but still non binding??? That’s utter gobbledegook.
Oscar Piastri not appreciated
The reality is Piastri was never going to get the Alpine drive in 2023 because the team wished to retain Fernando Alonso.
Rossi confirms this: “We really wanted to hold him [Alonso]. But we couldn’t commit for more than two years because we had an option for three years with Piastri.
In the long term, it was always clear to us that we had to bet on the future. And the future was called Oscar.
We offered Fernando the maximum of what we could. That was a one-plus-one contract. He could have driven for us long-distance races after two years. That was the plan. We wanted to keep the man of the present and secure that of the future.”
Alonso knew the one plus one, meant just one year and jumped ship to Aston Martin where he has a 2-3 year contract.
Despite the November 2021 contract with Piastri being non-binding Rossi argues Alpine had executed their offers as planned.
“We kept all our promises and wanted to present him with a contract. There was no need to rewrite the November contract again, as all agreements were executed as planned. And the new contract for 2023 would then replace the old one.
“However, he did not want to sign the agreement. Therefore, we were unable to register a contract with the arbitration court. We were trapped in a sense.
“He played for bit on time, but told us that he had a chance to drive for McLaren. We found that strange. Ricciardo was still there, and McLaren explained on the 6th. July that they want to continue with Daniel.
“As it turned out later, Oscar had already on the 4th. Signed with McLaren in July. For us, this sounded very hazy. That’s why we still assumed that he was committed to us. We had the feeling that he owed us something after all the preparation. After all, there is still something like loyalty.”
Piastri made his demands clear
Formula One is a multi billion dollar sport and claiming ‘assumed loyalty’ simply makes Alpine and Rossi sound ridiculous.
Alpine had a star junior academy driver who they ignored and promoted a far less successful driver ahead of him into F1 and wonder why he exploited the vagaries of their badly written contract.
Rossi’s next admissions make matters worse. Oscar Piastri had told them he didn’t want to drive for a back of the grid team.
“He didn’t want to drive for Williams. We told him that he should be satisfied with what we offer him. Fernando will definitely drive at a much higher level next year than a newcomer. Maybe Oscar would have gotten there at some point, but certainly not right away.
“This applies to 95 percent of all drivers in the field. A little more modesty and sense of reality would have been required. And on the subject of Williams: George Russell drove there for three years, and it didn’t hurt him.
“Has he complained once? Now that he is driving for Mercedes, it turns out that his training years [at Williams] can’t have been so bad. After all, Russell now immediately drives on an equal footing with Hamilton, a seven-time world champion.
“Leclerc, Verstappen and Vettel also previously learned from a junior team.
Piastri only driver to win F3/F2 not promoted to F1
Alpine who are a re-incarnation of Renault have a history of CEO’s who are not Formula One bred through and through and Rossi clearly fails to understand the injustice Oscar Piastri felt.
Rossi has a solution to this situation going forward. Mark Webber manages Oscar Piastri and Alpine will no longer allow third party managers for their academy team.
“[We will resolve this] By taking over the management of the drivers in the academy itself and no longer allowing a third party. We are not a welfare company.”
Laurent clearly fails to understand it is not the fault of the third party management of Mark Webber, it was the refusal to to engage in proper legal advice and tie up their driver that has found Alpine in the current predicament.
Further it was Chinese money that saw Zhou given his opportunity ahead of Piastri which caused the rift. So you take the pipers money and he calls the tune.
Alpine ask FIA to regulate junior driver contracts
Rossi believes the FIA should regulate how junior drivers are contracted.
“Piastri has set a dangerous precedent for our sport with his behaviour.”
“Of course, we can design the contracts in the future in such a way that drivers are tied up in the long term. But this is like a marriage in which you determine from day one what the other may and cannot do.
“Maybe we should do it like in football, where it happens again and again that small clubs train players, and as soon as they are good, they are bought away by the big ones.
“Considering introducing a three-year period until the player can switch. And that the contract stays with the instructor for a while, so that he participates in the income that the player receives at the larger club.”
The nonsense in Rossi’s comments is that Oscar Piastri joined the Renault Sport academy in 2020 and then winning the F3 and F2 titles back to back he should have been fast tracked into Formula One.
George Russell and Charles LeClerc are the only other drivers ever to achieve this, both of whom were promoted to Formula One the year following their F2/GP2 title winning performances.
However Chinese money saw Alpine/Renault decide to promote a driver with way less impressive results than Oscar Piastri, and the rest is history.
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