The 2022 Formula One silly season was set to be unremarkable given the only drivers’ out of contract were employed by bottom half of the grid teams. The early retirement of Sebastian Vettel changed all that. Fernando Alonso who has clearly suffered tensions with his current Alpine team jumped ship to replace Vettel at Aston Martin.
Alonso too was out of contract but Alpine clearly stated their intention was to retain the Spanish driver into 2023. However Fernando was pushing for a multi-year deal which Alpine refused to offer so Alonso found a home at Aston Martin instead on a contract to the end of 2024 with a potential exclusion for another season.
Alonso quits and Alpine appoint Piastri
Alpine then declared they would replace Alonso with their academy driver Oscar Piastri. Within 90 minutes of the French team’s announcement Piastri stated he would not be driving for them in 2023.
Behind the scenes McLaren had been negotiating current driver Daniel Ricciardo’s exit and had lined up Piastri as his replacement.
Alpine cried foul and that their contract with Piastri was binding.
Team boss Otmar Szafneur hit out at Piastri claiming before the contract was reviewed by the FIA. “He’s a promising young driver who hasn’t driven in Formula 1 yet and my wish for Oscar was that he had a bit more integrity.”
Piastri contract not worth anything
“He signed a piece of paper as well back in November and we’ve done everything on our end of the bargain to prepare him for Formula 1. His end of the bargain was to either drive for us, or take a seat where we would place him, for the next three years and I just wish Oscar would have remembered what he signed in November and what he signed up to.”
However, following an embarrassing delay of several weeks the FIA’s contract board eventually ruled in favour of McLaren.
It was clear the documentation the Alpine management believed bound Piastri wasn’t watertight. At the time the contract was drawn up the executive director was Marcin Budkowski however he was replaced this year by Otmar Szafneur who had left Aston Martin.
Alpine promise no recriminations
When the contract review board ruled in McLaren’s favour Otmar was asked whether his predecessor was to blame.
“It’s easy to blame people who are no longer here, but that’s not my style,” he told assembled media.
“The right thing is to look at what happened, understand where the shortcomings were and fix them for the future.”
Well clearly Alpine have decided that in fact someone was to blame.
Despite being owned by Renault,Alpine are a UK based company and must file with companies house any change in the statutory directors of the business.
Alpine legal executive sacked
Documents filed and discovered by Racing365 reveal on November 8th Benedicte Mercer head of legal affairs was terminated as director. Her employment status is separate and companies house documents do not reveal whether she was removed entirely from the Alpine.
Clearly Mercer has been removed from her position of seniority and had failed to complete the road map for Piastri in a legally binding document. The plan was to send Oscar to Williams for 2023 and for him to replace Alonso in 2024.
Mark Webber who manages Piastri clearly believed his driver had a quicker route into Formula One with McLaren and potentially Oscar could e forced to wait until 2025 were Alonso to be granted his two year deal.
Which F1 team will get the last laugh?
Yet it may be Alpine who get the last laugh. They have signed an experienced driver and grand prix winner in Pierre Gasly to replace Alonso/Piastri and at the recent Sau Paulo GP the Enstone team all but claimed 4th in this seasons’ constructors’ championship ahead of Piastri’s new team McLaren.
Some F1 observers believe McLaren punched above their weight this year due to the top level driving skills of Lando Norris and given Daniel Ricciardo could not get the same car to perform anywhere near the British drivers’ standard, the McLaren car is difficult to drive.
Whether Piastri in his rookie year will succeed where Ricciardo and before him Sainz struggled is yet to be seen, but entering F1 against a team mate as respected as Norris will certainly e a big ask for Oscar Piastri.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 16, 2022