For all the thrill and intrigue that Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc’s battling at the front of Formula One field brought at the beginning of the 2022 season, by the time the Dutchman crossed the line in first place at the Hungarian Grand Prix last Sunday, fans were left with very little to look forward to in the second portion of the campaign.
F1 is now in its traditional summer break until the final weekend of August, and despite Verstappen’s stellar drive from 10th to victory in Budapest and the chaos of Ferrari’s bizarre strategy calls for Leclerc, there is not a huge amount of jeopardy left with both championships essentially wrapped up by Verstappen and his Red Bull team.
Sure, it will be mildly interesting to see if Mercedes can win a race before the checkered flag flies at the finale in Abu Dhabi in November, but beyond that the campaign is in danger of petering out into much of a nothingness.
Step forward, Oscar Piastri.
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Earlier this week the Alpine reserve driver unleashed chaos in the F1 paddock with a succinct post on his Twitter account.
Less than two hours after Alpine announced that Piastri would race for the team full-time in 2023, filling the seat vacated by Fernando Alonso who opted to move to Aston Martin in order to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel, the Australian wrote: “I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
In an instant the 21-year-old sent F1’s summer into chaos and ensured that, while it might not be directly related to the on-track action, the masses are set to be entertained by fascinating drama over the weeks and months to come.
Piastri has been part of the young driver program at Renault, Alpine’s parent company, since early 2020, winning both the Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships at the first time of asking with his backing. Having forced him to wait for a step up to F1 this season because of Alonso and Esteban Ocon’s contracts, the team had been trying to farm Piastri out on loan to backmarkers Williams for 2023 before having him potentially replace Alonso for 2024.
Oscar Piastri won the 2021 F2 championship by a whopping 60.5 points (Photo: AP)
Alonso’s stunning to move to Aston Martin, currently ninth in the constructors’ championship while Alpine are fourth, caught the French squad completely unawares and led them to move to secure Piastri in the two-time world champion’s place.
But Piastri and manager Mark Webber, who challenged for the F1 title in his time with Red Bull, had other ideas. Unenchanted by the possibility of years spent at the back of the grid with Williams, the pair had been negotiating a potential move to McLaren, and now seem to be so convinced that move is possible that they have admonished Alpine in public.
That a young driver with no experience in F1 could so confidently and publicly knock back a contract from a team relatively high up the grid, which has spent significant time, money, and energy managing the latter stages of his junior career, and which has prepared him for F1 full-time throughout 2022, takes serious belief not on Piastri’s part not just in the seriousness of McLaren’s alternative interest but also in his own ability and the strength of his reputation.
Piastri has good reason to be self confident. Winning immensely hard-fought F3 and F2 championships at the first time of asking in consecutive years is a sure-fire sign of a driver capable of stepping up to a competitive seat in the top tier of motorsport. That record is comparable to the likes of Leclerc and George Russell, who after spending the start of their respective F1 careers with teams lower down the order as they bedded in, are now racing for two of the most prestigious motorsports brands in the world and challenging for race wins.
F1 2023 grid as things stand
- Mercedes—Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
- Red Bull – Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
- Ferrari – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
- McLaren-Lando Norris and ???
- Alpine – Esteban Ocon and ???
- AlphaTauri – Pierre Gasly and ???
- Aston Martin – Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll
- Williams-Alex Albon and ???
- Alfa Romeo – Valtteri Bottas and ???
- Haas – Kevin Magnussen and ???
The quality of his CV explains why McLaren appear so keen to prize Piastri away from their rivals, and why they are likely willing to dump his compatriot Daniel Ricciardo after two disappointing seasons struggling to match Lando Norris in papaya. For their part, Alpine believe that their existing contractual agreement with Piastri is watertight, and insist that he is obligated to drive for the team in 2023.
What seems set to happen now, then, is a legal battle over the precise language in both Piastri’s contract with Alpine and possibly Ricciardo’s with McLaren, which the driver insists still has a year to run while CEO Zak Brown says “mechanisms” exist to curtail things come December. Contractual disputes may not be the reason anybody falls in love with motor racing, but for the rest of 2022 they are the most likely source of titillation and talking points in F1.
For his part, Piastri now gets to spend the summer knowing that he is the hottest property in motorsport and the name keeping fans’ tongues wagging. His worst case scenario from this point seems to be a race seat with Alpine next season, which only a few days would have been seen as his best possible outcome.
Not many young drivers would be brave enough to risk turning their backs on a solid drive in Formula One, but then very few possess the enormous scale of potential self-confidence which Oscar Piastri has clearly so clearly demonstrated.
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