The big Formula One story going into the summer break of 2022 was the resignation of Fernando Alonso from Alpine and the debacle that followed. The team announced that Oscar Piastri, their development driver, would replace the Spaniard for the 2023 season.
Within 90 minutes, Piastri took to twitter denying this was the case.
Alpine announce Oscar Piastri in vain
Senior Alpine team members berated Piastri in the media and sought to have his contract with them enforced by the FIA’s contract recognition board.
The board upheld Piastri’s claim he was free to leave and join McLaren.
Yet given McLaren’s drive to return to the front of the grid and be competing for titles in 2025, as Zak Brown claims, a number of F1 observers were surprised at the Woking based team’s appointment of a rookie driver.
Aston Martin replaced the retiring Sebastian Vettel with a double world champion in Fernando Alonso.
Even Haas have ditched the notion of recruiting rookie drivers and replaced the unfortunate Mick Schumacher with Nico Hulkenberg who has 181 F1 starts to his name.
Haas and Aston Martin go for experience
Have McLaren made a mistake in signing a rookie when their fight with Alpine proved to go down to the wire and just a few points last season?
Now matter how good a rookie F1 driver is, they need time to get up to speed with an F1 car and with just 3 days of pre-season testing available there’s less opportunity than ever to prepare a driver with no Formula One experience.
Piastri of course won the F3 championship in 2020 and the F2 drivers’ title in 2021 but now an experienced ex-team Williams and Ferrari manager questions whether this is enough evidence that Piastri will be an F1 success.
Peter Windsor believes that the team Prema is such a good junior Formula outfit that at times it makes their drivers appear better than they are.
Piastri’s Prema team ‘made him look better than he is’
Speaking via his twitch stream Windsor observes, “I suppose we’ve all got to be excited by Oscar Piastri, only because of what he achieved in Formula 3 and Formula 2.
“He achieved that with Prema, so you always have to have a slight thing there – ‘achieved with Prema’ as distinct from ‘achieved with MP Motorsport or DAMS or Carlin’ because Prema is so good.
“If you are the number one chosen driver at Prema, it’s a good drive to be in.
Windsor continues and makes an astonishing comparison between Piastri and Ayrton Senna.
Piastri the next Senna???
“I was lucky enough to be at the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna’s first Formula 1 race, and followed Ayrton throughout that weekend – even drove with him from the track one day, hung out with him – and he was just brilliant.
“He was absolutely perfect in everything he did: the setup of the Toleman; whenever there was a problem with the car, he was patient, he was calm, he was helping mechanics and he got exactly the right lap time and performance out of the car given where Toleman were on the grid. He was brilliant.
Of course the Formula One cars of the mid 1980’s are world’s apart from the cars of today and the teams are infinitely larger with a huge number of engineers and personnel all feeding into the setup of the modern day cars.
By refusing Alpine expectation is exponential
The argument Windsor propounds is by turning down Alpine, Piastri has generated a huge amount of expectation whereas Senna preferred the lower key entrance into Formula One by joining a ‘lesser’ team.
“If he’d gone in as a rookie driver alongside Esteban Ocon at Alpine there’s slightly less focus on him and slightly less pressure than he’s got now at McLaren, where he’s up there alongside Lando Norris having turned down Alpine.
“So he’s putting a massive amount of pressure on himself, which Ayrton Senna never did. But on the assumption that he is the next Ayrton Senna, which is what a lot of people tell us, then it’s going to be interesting to see how he goes.
“And it’s be interesting to see how Lando handles that as well, really interesting.
Oscar will be quickly judged
“Personally, I think Lando is exceptionally good and I think he’ll have no problem at all with Piastri, but given everything that’s happened in the last nine months with Piastri you’ve got to say this guy is unbelievably confident and his own ability to get in there and be an Ayrton Senna because he turned down Alpine.”
Unless Piastri proves to be up to speed within a handful of race weekends, McLaren will surely struggle to compete with Alpine and a resurgent Aston Martin.
Yet others may argue Ricciardo’s contribution in terms of points during 2022 was hardly anything to shout about having scored less than a third of the total of his team mate.