Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer says he’s happy that he lost the battle for Oscar Piastri’s contract because his team has ended up with a better driver line-up.
Alpine went through a public break-up with former protégé Piastri when the Australian revealed in the middle of the season that he would leave the French team’s junior program to join McLaren as a full-time driver in 2023.
Szafnauer had attempted to promote his then reserve driver into the seat vacated by Fernando Alonso only to find Piastri was committed elsewhere.
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A bitter public spat ensued and ended up in a hearing before the FIA’s contract recognition board, which ruled that Alpine had no legal hold on Piastri, having not even offered him a contract for 2023.
It was an embarrassing defeat for the French team, which had publicly accused Piastri of disloyalty.
Alpine regrouped to sign Pierre Gasly from AlphaTauri instead, forming an all-French line-up for next season.
Speaking to media after post-season testing in Abu Dhabi this week, Szafnauer proposed that he was actually pleased to have lost Piastri because it had given him a stronger line-up.
“Thinking that Oscar had a contract with us and the contract recognition board saying something different was a process we had to go through,” he said, per Motorsport.
“We had to go to the CRB and then get resolution. You know, that’s life. That’s why you have bodies that judge in if two sides think differently.
“I’m happy that our driving pairing with Esteban [Ocon] and Pierre is better than it would have been if we had won that case.
“[Gasly is] more experienced, still young and — time will tell — but I think faster.”
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Gasly is a one-time race winner and established midfield specialist but is hoping to banish memories of his half-season at Red Bull Racing, where he wilted so severely racing at the front that he was demoted back to AlphaTauri before the year finished.
Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi had earlier this year described Piastri being better than some drivers already in Formula 1.
“The ideal scenario is that he wins races and championships with us,” Rossi said. “I do believe he has the potential of being a future world champion, I am persuaded of that.”
Piastri has become a major sore point in the Alpine-McLaren rivalry despite the two teams coming to an agreement for the Aussie to switch hands ahead of time.
Szafnauer had previously blasted Piastri for not showing “a bit more integrity” in switching teams.
It’s something McLaren CEO Zak Brown clearly hasn’t forgotten and something that still rankles.
“I thought Otmar’s comments towards Oscar were very unfair and not accurate,” Brown told the BBC this week. “Especially having sat through the CRB and now I know exactly what happened.
“I thought the way Otmar called his integrity into question was very inaccurate and unfair, especially coming from Otmar.
“And (Piastri) was very mature through the whole process. For a 21-year-old having all that pressure and spotlight, he wasn’t frazzled, kept his head down.
“I’ve been very impressed with how he conducted himself over the summer.”
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Brown found himself aligned with Rossi’s point of view, saying that he believed Piastri is fast enough to challenge Lando Norris for internal supremacy.
“We’ve had him in our (old) car. He did an excellent job and I think he’s going to be a future star,” he said.
“Lando is one of the fastest drivers on the grid and I expect he and Oscar to be close.
“I expect Oscar to have some opportunities to beat him and vice versa. And that’s obviously what you want — two drivers right next to each other and reversing the order.
“I don’t have any expectations … but Lando is as fast as anyone in Formula 1 and in race-winning equipment he’d be winning races. I think probably everyone would agree with that.
“So Oscar is going to have a teammate that’s one of the fastest drivers in the world. But I fully expect Oscar, in time, to challenge Lando.”