AUGUST 3, 2022

Piastri stars as F1 silly season explodes

Formula 1's 'silly season' has exploded into high drama just as the sport prepares to enter its August break.

Otmar Szafnauer, Turkish GP 2021
© Aston Martin Racing

Formula 1's 'silly season' has exploded into high drama just as the sport prepares to enter its August break.

Otmar Szafnauer admits Fernando Alonso's decision to turn down a one-year deal and instead sign what is believed to be a $25 million per season multi-year contract with Aston Martin caught Renault-owned Alpine by surprise.

"There were rumours in the paddock and I heard them," the Alpine boss is quoted by L'Equipe. "But I learned of the signing through the press release."

Szafnauer admits he also saw Alonso with Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll in Hungary last weekend, although he says the 41-year-old denied signing a deal.

"I couldn't speak with Fernando on Monday as he is on a boat in the Greek islands," Szafnauer added.

Spaniard Alonso, however, then cheekily uploaded to social media a photo of him karting at his own circuit in Asturias. It is believed he was upset about Alpine's concerns about agreeing a longer deal at Alonso's advancing age.

"Fernando shouldn't have worried," said Szafnauer. "If he had driven next year like he is now, we would have taken up the option.

"But security was obviously more important to him."

The true intrigue, however, is about what happened next. While Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri's manager Mark Webber slept in Australia, the Renault-owned team announced that the reigning F2 champion would replace Alonso in 2023.

"Alpine now looks forward to seeing the next stage in his F1 career alongside Esteban Ocon," the press statement announced.

21-year-old Piastri, however, quickly denied that he would be driving for Alpine next year, revealing on social media that the team had made the call "without my agreement".

"This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year," he insisted.

It is believed Piastri actually had two contract 'options' with Alpine - one for a full race seat in 2023 and the other a race-by-race deal for next year in the event that either Alonso or Ocon were not available.

He has reportedly rejected the second option, after Alpine and Piastri did not take up the initial option by the deadline.

The matter may now become a legal one.

Williams was clearly interested in borrowing Piastri from Alpine for two years, but it now emerges that the Australian may in fact have signed a letter of intent to replace Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren next year.

"I don't know what he's done with McLaren," Szafnauer said. "Like I said, I'm not privy to that.

"He told us that he is currently examining his options - whatever that means. All I can say is that we have always kept our commitments to Oscar, advancing his career not only with money but also with a lot of heart and soul.

"Not every team does that."

The best option for Alpine now may be a McLaren 'swap' with Ricciardo, but a source pointed out: "There's so much chaos that Piastri may end up having nowhere to go."

When asked about Alpine's embarrassing limbo, Szafnauer said: "We are not ready to think about what will happen after Piastri.

"What happened with Fernando is still too fresh."