The latest on Piastri/Alpine/Ricciardo silly season drama

So what's the latest around Oscar Piastri?

So what’s the latest around Oscar Piastri?

The Formula 1 silly season loves to come alive during the summer break and this year we have one hell of a drama developing. It’s not every year a team announces a driver will race for it in F1 only to have that driver brazenly reject the claim in public. But that’s where the incredible Alpine/Oscar Piastri saga began last week.

This all started after another sensational driver market twist when Aston Martin made the shock announcement it had signed Fernando Alonso – who just a few hours previously had assured Alpine he would be finalising his new contract with them. Alonso’s defection is the only reason Alpine had a vacant seat to give Piastri. But he doesn’t want it because he’s trying to get in at McLaren in place of Daniel Ricciardo. It’s an extraordinary story – so here’s where it’s all currently at.

 WHAT’S THE PIASTRI/ALPINE LATEST?

It’s now looking pretty nailed on that Oscar will drive for McLaren next season rather than Alpine. There’s been a shift in the way that Alpine is speaking about it, from announcing him and stating they had a strong legal position and a contract with Oscar for 2023, towards questioning Oscar’s loyalty and suggesting that he has a moral obligation to the team – and if Alpine doesn’t have him, it will seek compensation for all the money spent investing in his career.

Questioning his loyalty is potentially naive. The Piastri camp is clearly adamant there was no firm F1 contract. It’s undisputed that Alpine had an option on him of some kind. But there are still all sorts of questions – primarily, did that option actually guarantee Alpine anything? Or was he free to pursue another F1 contract with another team?

It’s starting to look like it’s more of that. If Alpine didn’t turn its option into an F1 contract before he did a deal with McLaren, then Alpine’s only got itself to blame for leaving the door open and making the Piastri camp feel like he had a better future elsewhere. So now we’re at an impasse where Alpine’s waiting to find out what the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board says about its alleged deal with Piastri.
Once that’s resolved, Alpine must decide whether it can uphold Piastri to a deal or chase compensation through a civil court procedure.

WHERE DOES RICCIARDO FIT IN?

I think there’s no chance of Piastri racing for Alpine next season and I’d be really surprised if we didn’t see him in a McLaren in 2023. To that end, I’m confident that McLaren has told Daniel Ricciardo the team does not want him to drive in 2023. And the negotiations about a payoff have started.

Ricciardo’s got a valid contract 2023 and there is an option for it to be cancelled, but the options on his side. McLaren is reliant on Daniel playing ball, which is why he can afford to have high demands.
He’s initially looking at around $20 million, maybe a bit more, and that will reflect his third-year salary. Usually with long term contracts in Formula 1, the salary is weighted more heavily towards the end, as an incentive for loyalty. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Ricciardo’s poised to get paid even more in this third year than in the first two.

He’s not the one that wants to walk away. McLaren want to guide him to the exit door. So I think he’s absolutely bang on to say, ‘OK, fine, but pay me the money you were going to pay me next year’. That makes sense as a starting point, but then you negotiate the conditions around your departure.
If Ricciardo’s willing to accept a condition of not racing for another team next year, maybe he can command 100% of his owed salary from McLaren. Or maybe if he’s allowed to join another team (say, Alpine) then McLaren would pay a percentage of his salary and Alpine the rest. Whatever happens, if Ricciardo’s racing in F1 next year, it’s looking desperately unlikely it will be with McLaren as planned.

WHAT WILL ALPINE DO?

Alpine has to get Ricciardo. There’s no serious alternative. If Alpine doesn’t at least get a race winner in alongside Esteban Ocon then whoever is signed will just be a one or two-year seat filler.
Ricciardo would be a gamble, given he’s not looked good at McLaren and there’s a question over whether he can adapt to the 2022 generation of cars and the inherently weaker front end. But if it paid off and he performed at the level he did when that team was Renault in 2019 and 2020 then Alpine will have escaped a major penalty. Fail to get Ricciardo, though, and you’re looking at a second tier driver either from F1’s lower midfield, someone currently on the sidelines, or an underwhelming rookie option.