When Otmar Szafnauer was asked in Montreal whether the team’s Formula 1-ready junior driver – 21-year-old Australian Oscar Piastri – would graduate to the series next year, the Alpine team principal answered with a single word: “Yes.”
Having Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon already contracted and both performing to a decent level not only meant Piastri would fail to get a look in for 2022, it was difficult to see a route to a race seat in Alpine blue for the rookie in the medium-term. With Alonso showing no intention of stopping and continuing to demonstrate his remarkable racing prowess on Sundays, surely a contract extension into next season and beyond was an inevitability?
So it seemed until the morning after the Hungarian Grand Prix. Aston Martin’s out-of-the-blue announcement that they had secured the double world champion’s services from 2023 and beyond was stunning not just for the prospect of Alonso in British Racing Green but the implications his departure from Enstone will have.
Suddenly, the vacancy that was at Aston Martin has now shifted to Alpine. The team has said it will “announce its driver line-up for the 2023 Formula 1 season in due course”. The question now becomes who will race alongside Ocon next year?
The most obvious solution would be for Alpine to promote their junior into an overdue spot on the grid. Especially given how proactive Alpine have been about keeping their prospect primed and ready to step into a race seat whenever needed during his year away from racing.
Like McLaren and Ferrari, Alpine have made use of the Testing With Previous Cars (TPC) protocols outlined in the sporting regulations to give Piastri and fellow junior Jack Doohan runs out in last year’s A521. Multi-day tests in the 2021 car at Losail International Circuit, Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring in Austria are the best possible way for Alpine to keep him ripe and ready to take over a race seat without having lost any momentum from his Formula 2 championship triumph.
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“Oscar’s a bright young talent coming through, as we all know,” Szafnauer explained in Montreal. “He’s been testing last year’s car, at more than just Silverstone, he’s done a few others and we’ll do some more in the future. He’s doing very well.”
Asked before Alonso’s decision to leave the team about how talks over Piastri’s future with the team had been going, Szafnauer said Alpine were willing to take their time to find the right opportunity for him and for the team.
“We’re contracted with Oscar and we have some options on him. There’s no real need to hurry that, so we’ll take our time and at the right moment, within the silly season, we’ll have a look around and make those types of decisions.”
But there are other possible destinations for Piastri which Alpine have been actively pursuing. These do not necessarily have to close due to Alonso’s departure, particularly if the team wants to blood its rookie in elsewhere before promoting him to their team, as their rivals did with drivers like Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and George Russell.
With no junior team and no other manufacturers running the same power unit, Renault-owned Alpine have resorted to some unusual lengths to court other teams as potential options. After Daniel Ricciardo tested positive for Covid ahead of the opening race of the season in Bahrain – forcing him to miss the final pre-season test – Alpine made the grand gesture of offering Piastri to McLaren as a potential reserve option should either of their race drivers be sidelined during the season.
Such a generous offer was transparently self-interested, but it also suggested how Alpine were more than open to the idea of sending their prospect off for an internship with a rival team if such an opportunity presented itself. McLaren was no coincidence either, with Ricciardo’s 2021 struggles appearing to largely remain into his second season with the team leading to rumours that Piastri’s manager, former F1 race winner Mark Webber, was trying to shop his client as a potential replacement.
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Despite the understanding between Alpine and McLaren, the Woking-based team seems an unlikely landing spot for the Australian, given McLaren’s extensive investment in its own TPC programme and what feels like half of the current IndyCar roster potentially being groomed for a future shot in Formula 1.
The more plausible alternative for Alpine is found at Williams. With Alexander Albon having established himself quickly at the team, Nicholas Latifi’s chances of being extended into a fourth season seem increasingly slim. Williams’ own junior driver programme features Formula 2 driver Logan Sargeant on its books, but the American lacks superlicence points at present.
Who better for a team like Williams to put in their second seat alongside an established leader like Albon than one of the most promising F2 champions of recent times? Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi openly admitted the team would be willing to send him on an internship with a rival team.
“I’d be open to loan Oscar out to a team as long as I get him back,” Rossi said in June. “We’ve invested heavily in Oscar, we believe in him and that’s why he’s our reserve driver. He’s a very promising talent.
“We would love to fulfil this talent in the team. So a loan, like many other drivers, starting in another team, to learn the tricks and then coming back to us will be a good scenario.”
Would Williams be willing to take on another team’s driver, knowing they would effectively be sharpening him up for an eventual return to his own team? Absolutely, says Williams CEO Jost Capito.
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“I think if that was the best for us, then we would consider that,” Capito said. “If it’s not the best, if we have another, better solution, we will go for the better solution.
“We’ve got various options. And that’s the options we are thinking about as well. And we will finally go for what we believe is the best for the team. But it’s too early to get into details, because we’re not there yet.”
Assuming Piastri’s future is not revealed with an announcement over the August break, then speculation over his future will only intensify once the sport reconvenes in Spa-Francorchamps to begin the final leg of the championship. With Alpine yet to satisfy either of their obligations to run inexperienced drivers in two Friday practice sessions this season, sporting director Alan Permane says the 21-year-old will not have much longer to wait to get his first outing in a grand prix session.
“It’s not a huge issue to find a weekend, there are plenty, and I think we’ll see Oscar in our car either in Spa or Monza for the first time,” Permane revealed in Hungary.
Whichever team it ultimately ends up being with, Oscar Piastri’s Formula 1 debut is now surely an inevitability. Today, Alonso may have just handed Alpine the simplest solution to their young driver dilemma.
View the current list of 2023 F1 drivers and teams
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2022 F1 season
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25 comments on “Piastri’s F1 promotion in 2023 seems assured, but not necessarily at Alpine”
1st August 2022, 17:16
If their contract allows they should stand Alonso down now and put Oscar in the car for the rest of 2022.
1st August 2022, 17:56
And risk your 4th place in the Championship.
1st August 2022, 18:05
Vettel will happily retire immediately too.
1st August 2022, 18:28
Barra its It would be amazing to see Oscar in the car this season but its unusual to replace drivers with young super fast rookies mid season even if SEB retires to save the planet(!).
Lewis Hamilton didn’t drive for McLaren in 2006 when Juan Pablo Montoya walked out of the team mid season because Lewis was still racing in GP2 and Ron Dennis wanted him to win the title first before he gave him a drive. The big difference is that Oscar already won the F2 title last year and is currently doing nothing..
My guess is that even if SEB retires early stroll snr does not want to buy out alonso’s contract and money hungry Fernando isn’t going to take a pay cut to join AM early, the entire reason when he signed for AM was for the cash!
Also if stroll does pay up Alpine might block a move anyway because AM are a rival team and if he leaves now AM benefit from Fernando giving them Alpines current team secrets and alonso is very experienced in this field from his spygate scandal days..
1st August 2022, 20:24
I get the feeling you are not a fan of Alonso XD
Personally I think it might be an interesting option for Alpine to sideline Alonso if that is possible without spending too much on buying out his contract. As for AM, I don’t think it is worth their money as I don’t think Seb will want to retire right away.
1st August 2022, 20:28
You were actually making a good point! But just couldn’t help yourself from defectating all over it with your own absurd prejudices on Alonso lol
1st August 2022, 18:48
There are rumors that Schumacher was eying the Vettel seat, and potentially considering leaving the Ferrari drivers academy. I wonder what his options are now that Alonso has taken that seat. Maybe Schumacher at Williams and Piastri at Alpine?
1st August 2022, 19:14
He’ll continue at Haas in all likelihood as he doesn’t have any viable alternatives for continuing in F1.
Alonso’s somewhat unexpected team change has not only all but confirmed Piastri becoming his successor, but also Mick’s Haas continuation.
1st August 2022, 20:32
It’s hard for me to imagine any scenario that doesn’t involve Piastri getting Alonso’s seat. Anything else would be preposterous. I can’t believe my eyes when I see headlines talking about anything else. If Piastri manages to somehow get out of his ties to Alpine good for him! But I don’t see why Alpine would let the hottest rookie F1 has had since Leclerc, slip away.
That being said, this a company with Renault DNA. If anyone knows how to shoot themselves in the foot it’s Renault. After all, they put themselves in a position where they put Ocon on a multi-year deal, sat Piastri on the sidelines, and let Alonso walk away.
I’m a massive Piastri fan and wish him the absolute best. But I have few hopes of Alpine amounting to much in the future. At least under the mediocre leadership of Otmar
2nd August 2022, 7:54
Maybe Piastri has a contract and it’s a bit harder to break that with Williams…
1st August 2022, 19:10
What would be the point now that they don’t have to let Alonso go as he decided to do so himself?
Alpine trying to make Piastri’s situation someone else’s problem despite having a vacancy in their team would be foolish when they can easily just promote him from test/reserve role to regular driver issue-freely.
No, Piastri will become Alonso’s successor 100%, so they should’ve just announced him immediately to avoid causing further speculation.
1st August 2022, 21:09
Yeah, I also fail to see the point of drafting in any other driver to replace Alsono when they have Piastri to do the job and start his career in their team right away @jerejj.
With Alonso there, I can understand they were looking elsewhere, but i really don’t know of any driver that would make more sense and is available for the Alpine team now that Alonso decided to jump ship to AM.
1st August 2022, 20:14
I’ve seen rumors Piastri had already pre-signed with another team before the Alonso move
1st August 2022, 20:17
@paeschli That was a little while ago, so I guess nothing concrete in the end.
1st August 2022, 20:34
If that’s the case, it will be so embarrassing for Alpine. Who the hell are they gonna hire now for a year, maybe two? Whoever it is, will have to be desperate enough. That leaves Gasly (provide he can actually get out of his contract) or Ricciardo, although I don’t see Alpine paying anywhere near what it would take to get Ricciardo. Furthermore, I wonder if there is any bad blood at Renault about how he left.
1st August 2022, 20:48
Zhou was an Alpine driver, they can take him for a year.
3rd August 2022, 23:01
Why not someone who doesn’t have a seat like hulkenberg? If he impresses, he gets a chance at another team maybe, if not he gets a last year in f1, he’s a decent driver anyway.
1st August 2022, 22:06
I’d actually see Piastri’s move to Williams as more likely if it were accompanied by another change I’m hoping for: Williams switching to Renault power.
2nd August 2022, 8:27
Not sure Alpine needs to worry too much about whether or not to promote Piastri.
It’s not as if they’ll be contenders next year, or any year soon, so they can easily bring in a rookie without risk.
A good midfield team is arguably a great place to debut rather than one at the very bottom. Here’s hoping Alpine actually does what seems to be logical, but it’s “Renault” so we can almost guarantee they’ll make the worst possible decisions.
2nd August 2022, 8:32
I can’t help thinking Schumacher (GER) and Piastri (AUS) in the same team in the future and recreating Multi 21..
2nd August 2022, 17:04
GER+AUS=Multi 21 in your head?
2nd August 2022, 12:40
Ok, so it seems sensible if Webber had some talks with McLaren and they actually agreed on an option to have Piastri race there (instead of being dropped at Williams).
Normally such a deal (Piastri – McLaren) would have been subject to Alpine not being able to take up their option/make good on the promise of a race seat, or possibly of not offering a seat at the same level op competitiveness. But I would think that now that Alpine are able to offer a race seat from next year onwards, it changes the situation (i.e. if Alpine do take up the option, Piastri wouldn’t be able to reject it).
I just don’t see McLaren settling something with Ricciardo AND buying Piastri out of an Alpine contract (they aren’t offering anything like that to Palou on the other side of the pond either). Apart from the question whether Piastry would be off that much better at the Woking team facing a match up with Norris vs. staying with Alpine and going up against Ocon.
2nd August 2022, 13:25
Right. So I learnt that it could well be that Alpine’s option to his exclusive services might have expired on the 31th of July this year. That would nicely explain Alonsos timing then, clearly he intended to time it this way.
I guess Alpine can try and lure back Daniel as a replacement. Or maybe draw in either Lundgaard back from IndyCar or see whether Zhou is interested in rejoining them (Alfa Romeo could then slot in Pourchaine instead)
2nd August 2022, 16:41
I think the problem with alpine is otmar… why did Cyril leave? Is it possible McLaren will pay out ric contract for 23 and replace him? Haven’t seen this written anywhere. As an avid fan of f1 and motorsports in general I have keenly observed piastri over the years and put his above leclerc by some margin. Looking forward to seeing him in a McLaren next year… alpine is just Renault… a pig with lipstick
3rd August 2022, 23:09
Wow, above leclerc with some margin could potentially make him the best current driver and one of the best ever.
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