One of the brightest young talents in motorsports found himself engaged in a massive contract dispute this week, and it could leave one of Formula One’s most popular drivers without a job next season.
Oscar Piastri, who is currently the reserve/test driver at Alpine F1 team, was announced Tuesday as one of the team’s two primary drivers for the 2023 season. However, about 30 minutes after Alpine’s press release, Piasti wrote on Twitter that he did not have a contract with Alpine for the 2023 season and called the press release “wrong.”
Rumors had been swirling that Piastri, 21, had already secured a 2023 deal with McLaren F1 team, which is currently fighting with Alpine for fourth position in the 2022 constructors’ standings. Those rumors seem to have had credence, as RACER reported Friday that McLaren was in exit talks with eight-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo and felt it had a valid contract with Piastri.
Meanwhile, Alpine also believes it has a valid contract with Piastri for 2023, telling RACER they feel their statement announcing Piastri was “legally correct.”
So, will Piastri make his F1 debut in 2023 and for which team? And what does it mean for Ricciardo, whose turbulent career has been highlighted in part by the popular Netflix documentary “Drive to Survive?”
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How did this all start?
Formula One is known for chaotic midseasons rife with drivers switching teams. The period, which typically commences during the sport’s annual summer break, is called “silly season.”
Still, situations like this are rare. The first domino to fall in this case was the retirement of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. This led current Alpine driver Fernando Alonso to swoop in and replace Vettel at Aston Martin for 2023 — a move that, according to RACER, Alpine didn’t learn about until Aston Martin’s press release.
Alonso’s sudden departure left a hole at Alpine, which it sought to logically fill with Piastri, the team’s reserve driver and someone who had come up through the Alpine junior program. But that plan seemingly fell through after Piastri refuted the team’s announcement, which is still live on Alpine’s Twitter account.
Meanwhile, questions surrounding Ricciardo’s seat began to reach a fever pitch as the Australian continued to struggle in his second year with McLaren. Since 2021, Ricciardo has been routinely outpaced by his teammate Lando Norris and hasn’t been the same driver he was with Red Bull Racing from 2014-18.
Who is Oscar Piastri?
Piastri is a 21-year-old Australian driver, who has been part of the Alpine junior program since 2020. Junior programs help young drivers progress through minor racing series as they work their way up to F1.
Piastri won the Formula 3 championship in 2020 and the Formula 2 championship in 2021, becoming just the fifth driver to win both series in consecutive years. As per regulations levied by the FIA, the governing body of motorsports, drivers who win the F2 title are not allowed to rejoin the following year. With no available seats in F1 for 2022, this left Piastri in no-man’s land — with Alpine eventually signing him to a reserve contract for 2022 for the purpose of keeping Piastri affiliated with the team and getting the Australian some experience with the F1 car.
Will Daniel Ricciardo drive in F1 next year?
It’s difficult to imagine Ricciardo not driving in F1 next year, but it is plausible. If Piastri occupies McLaren’s second seat in 2023, Ricciardo will be left with few options — and none of them are great.
The possibility exists that Ricciardo could take the vacant Alpine seat. He raced for the team under its previous branding as Renault from 2019-20 before joining McLaren. Ricciardo finished fifth in the drivers’ championship standings for Renault in 2020.
For a team that could see both its top choices for 2023 — Alonso and Piastri — simultaneously leave them at the altar, Alpine would be hard-pressed to find a better quick-fix replacement than Ricciardo.
McLaren has not yet made an announcement regarding Piastri or Ricciardo for 2023, but the team has also been connected to other drivers including IndyCar youngster Colton Herta.
This sounds familiar. Isn’t there something like this in IndyCar as well?
Yes, and it should sound especially familiar because McLaren is also at the center of the IndyCar situation. Chip Ganassi Racing announced it was bringing back driver Alex Palou, the 2021 IndyCar Series champion, for the 2023 season only for Palou to deny it and McLaren to say it had signed Palou to drive for its IndyCar team next season.
Chip Ganassi Racing sued Palou, who is still driving for the team in 2022, over the contract dispute. The sides are now headed to federal court.
Who decides contract disputes in F1?
Contract disputes in F1 are decided by the FIA Contract Recognition Board (CRB), a group of independent lawyers who settle disputes out of court. Alpine has appealed to the board to determine the validity of its contract with Piastri. It is likely the Piastri situation, because of the CRB, will be settled before Palou’s IndyCar fate is known.
This situation is similar to a decision made by the CRB in 2004 when F1 driver Jenson Button attempted to leave BAR-Honda for Williams. The CRB ruled in favor of Honda, which retained Button’s services for the 2005 season.
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So Piastri could be forced to drive for Alpine in 2023?
If the CRB ruled in favor of Alpine, yes. He would be contractually obligated to drive for them. However, if the group determined McLaren’s contract was valid and supersedes that of Alpine, then Piastri would be free to join McLaren and Alpine would be left with an open seat to fill ahead of 2023.