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‘This is wrong’: Driver refutes F1 team’s announcement of his promotion

The head of Alpine indicated his team thought it had Oscar Piastri under contract through 2023, but the up-and-coming driver appears to think differently. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Less than two hours after the Alpine Formula One team announced that Oscar Piastri would be one of its drivers next season, Piastri declared that was not the case.

The 21-year-old Piastri has spent several years in Alpine’s driver academy and has been a reserve driver for the Formula One team this year, but he sharply distanced himself from Alpine in a tweet Tuesday.

“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,” Piastri said on Twitter. “This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”

An Alpine spokesperson subsequently told the BBC, “We believe we are legally correct in our statement but don’t have anything further to say.”

Alpine, which rebranded itself from Renault last year and continues to use engines from the French car manufacturer, has been struck by tumult since Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement Thursday.

Speculation about who might replace Vettel quickly began to center on Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, and those rumors proved to be true when Aston Martin announced Monday that it signed the Spaniard for the 2023 season and beyond. Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer then acknowledged that he had been in talks with Alonso to retain the veteran driver and was not aware of his defection until Szafnauer saw Aston Martin’s news release.

Alpine quickly pivoted to its announced promotion of Piastri to one of its two 2023 race seats, with the other held by Esteban Ocon. Szafnauer said in a statement issued by the team, “Oscar is a bright and rare talent. We are proud to have nurtured and supported him through the difficult pathways of the junior formulae. Through our collaboration over the past four years, we have seen him develop and mature into a driver who is more than capable of taking the step up to Formula 1.”

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Now the dominoes might fall in a different direction. Before Alonso bolted to Aston Martin, Piastri and his manager, former Formula One driver Mark Webber, were thought by some observers to be interested in joining McLaren or Williams. With his apparent rejection of Alpine, and assuming the team does not manage to keep him in the fold, Piastri may yet sign with McLaren.

If so, it would likely mean that organization is moving on from longtime Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo, who is having a disappointing season. Ricciardo reportedly has a contract that ties him to McLaren through 2023, but if he feels the team no longer wants him, the 33-year-old Australian could find himself and Alpine solving a shared problem. Ricciardo is familiar with the team, having raced for Renault in 2019 and 2020.

In other words, Formula One is truly in the midst of its so-called “silly season,” when the circuit’s extended midsummer break gives teams and drivers time to plot their next moves.

Earlier Tuesday, Szafnauer told Motorsport that Piastri had “contractual obligations to us” that he said were in place through at least 2023. Pointing to Alpine’s “significant amount of investment” in the young driver, Szafnauer added: “We’ve only done that with a view of having him race here in the future. We wouldn’t have done that, if the view was to get him prepared for one of our competitors.”

A legal battle could be in store for Piastri if he remains determined to land on another team next year.

A native of Australia, like Ricciardo and Webber, Piastri won the FIA Formula 3 Championship in 2020 and the Formula 2 title last year. He is widely regarded as one of the sport’s foremost up-and-coming talents.

Alpine and McLaren are in a tight battle for fourth place in the Formula One constructor standings. The next stop on the circuit is the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 28. Formula One ends its 2022 season with a mid-November race in Abu Dhabi.