Since rebranding from Renault, the waters have been rocky at Alpine. Daniel Ricciardo’s exit from the team, a year before team principal Cyril Abiteboul, has seen the team slowly pick up the pieces, adding two-time champion Fernando Alonso to the ever-erratic Esteban Ocon.
This week has blown those pieces all over the show though, with Alonso departing the Paris-based team despite their confidence that he would put pen to paper on another year. But before they could get any contracts confirmed, Alonso was announced by Aston Martin as their new driver for the 2023 season.
Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer reported that no indication was made by the Spaniard that he would be leaving the team at the end of the year and that the first he had heard of a switch was from Aston Martin’s press release, issued on Monday evening.
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This is no doubt a blow to the plans in place at Alpine. Ocon is providing plenty of points this season alongside a resurgent Alonso, with a car that seems to be able to fight towards the top of the table, but losing him is a big hit to both the team and Ocon. Alonso provides experience and he’s expected to have completed the most race starts ever by a driver in F1 by the time the Singapore Grand Prix rolls around.
The timing of this procedure seems like a natural time to do it, given the summer break, however, a deeper dive may indicate more sinister goings-on than first believed.
Expected to replace Alonso was wonderkid Oscar Piastri, an Australian 21-year-old that’s won the F4, F3 and F2 on the way to earning his first seat in F1. Piastri was an Alpine junior driver and was a backup for Alonso and Ocon this season, however it would appear that his contract with the team ended on July 31st, when the summer break arrived.
For reasons yet to be explained, Alpine announced yesterday that Piastri was their new driver for next season. The first thing with the announcement was the timing, with it taking place at around 5pm UK time. For Piastri, it was the early hours of the morning, and it wasn’t abundantly clear if he was aware of the announcement taking place.
The second issue with the announcement was the lack of quotes from the Aussie. Whenever any sports team announces the signing of a player, driver or whomever, it’s expected that the players will have even the most generic of quotes alongside their press release. There was none for Piastri.
This announcement was very quickly refuted by the apparent ‘new driver’, with him tweeting less than two hours later that he is not their new driver for next season, and will not be signing with Alpine.
Funnily enough, this isn’t the first time this has happened in motor racing. Indycar’s 2021 champion Alex Palou was the victim of an unexpected declaration from his team at Chip Ganassi Racing when they announced his new contract last month, with fabricated quotes included, before he confirmed a seat at McLaren’s American outfit.
Alpine (at the time of writing) are yet to delete their announcement of a new driver that was never true. Going into the summer break, they looked to hold all of the cards, with contract extensions for their junior and senior drivers in the works, however they have been left with no clear strategy for next season.
For Piastri, it looks like he knows that he’ll have a seat on the grid next year, whether it’s in McLaren orange or Williams blue. His talents haven’t gone unnoticed, and he brings a hype with him similar to the likes of Lando Norris and George Russell when they made the step up.
Otmar Szafnauer will be pulling his hair out as he tries to scramble for a new driver for next season, and he might end up with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo if he is replaced by the other Aussie arriving on the grid.
The Romanian-American team principal has already gone on record to say that the team wouldn’t have a problem in taking Ricciardo back at the team, and with his future up in the air, it might be one of the last chances he’ll get in the sport.