Piastri’s F1 debut looks assured, but not necessarily at Alpine RaceFans

When Otmar Szafnauer was asked in Montreal if the team’s Formula 1-ready junior driver – 21-year-old Australian Oscar Piastri – would move up to the series next year, the Alpine team principal said replied with a single word: “Yes”.

From European Formula Renault champion in 2019 to FIA Formula 3 champion in his rookie season in 2020 before winning the Formula 2 crown in his first attempt last season, Piastri could not have made the case for racing in Formula 1. However, there was simply no room for the junior Alpine driver in the team’s ranks for 2022.

Having Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon already under contract and both performing at a decent level not only meant that Piastri would fail to get a look for 2022, it was hard to see a path to a racing seat in alpine blue for the rookie in the mid-term. With Alonso showing no intention of stopping and continuing to demonstrate his remarkable racing prowess on Sunday, was a contract extension to next season and beyond inevitable?

So it seemed until the morning after the Hungarian Grand Prix. Aston Martin’s impromptu announcement that they have secured the services of the double world champion from 2023 and beyond was stunning not only for Alonso’s prospect in British Racing Green, but also for the implications that his departure from Enstone will have.

Analysis: How did Alpine let its star driver slip through its fingers?

Suddenly, the vacant position which was at Aston Martin moved to Alpine. The team said it “will announce its driver line-up for the 2023 Formula 1 season in due course”. The question now is who will race alongside Ocon next year?

The most obvious solution would be for Alpine to promote their junior to a place behind on the grid. Especially considering how proactive Alpine is in keeping its prospects primed and ready to get into a racing seat whenever needed during its year away from racing.

Like McLaren and Ferrari, Alpine used the Testing with Previous Cars (TPC) protocols outlined in the sporting regulations to give Piastri and fellow junior Jack Doohan races in last year’s A521. Multi-day testing in the 2021 car at Losail International Circuit, Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring in Austria is the best possible way for Alpine to keep it ripe and ready to take a racing seat without losing the momentum of his Formula 2 championship triumphs.

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“Oscar is a brilliant young talent, as we all know,” Szafnauer explained in Montreal. “He tested the car last year, more than Silverstone, he did a few more and we will do more in the future. He is doing very well.

Piastri won the Formula 2 title on his first attempt

Asked ahead of Alonso’s decision to leave the team how discussions over Piastri’s future with the team are going, Szafnauer said Alpine is ready to take its time to find the right opportunity for him and the team. ‘crew.

“We are under contract with Oscar and we have options on him. There’s really no need to rush, so we’ll take our time and at the right time, in the silly season, we’ll look around and make those kinds of decisions.

But there are other possible destinations for Piastri which Alpine is actively pursuing. These don’t necessarily have to close because of Alonso’s departure, especially if the team wants to bleed their rookie elsewhere before promoting him to their team, as their rivals have done with drivers like Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and George Russell.

With no junior team and no other manufacturer using the same powertrain, Renault-owned Alpine resorted to unusual efforts to woo other teams as potential options. After Daniel Ricciardo tested positive for Covid ahead of the season-opening race in Bahrain – forcing him to miss the final pre-season test – Alpine made the grand gesture of offering Piastri to McLaren as an option for potential reserve should any of their racing drivers be sidelined during the season.

Such a generous offer was obviously self-serving, but it also suggested how more than open Alpine was to the idea of ​​sending its prospect to train with a rival team if such an opportunity presented itself. McLaren was no coincidence either, with Ricciardo’s struggles in 2021 appearing to remain largely in his second season with the team, leading to rumors that Piastri’s manager, the former winner of the F1 racer Mark Webber, was trying to tap his client as a potential replacement.

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Despite Alpine’s deal with McLaren, the Woking-based team seems an unlikely landing spot for the Australian, given McLaren’s heavy investment in its own TPC program and what appears to be half the roster current IndyCar car potentially primed for future filming in Formula. 1.

Alpine gave Piastri plenty of testing opportunities

The most plausible alternative for Alpine is at Williams. With Alexander Albon quickly establishing himself in the team, Nicholas Latifi’s chances of being extended for a fourth season seem increasingly slim. Williams’ own junior driver program includes Formula 2 driver Logan Sargeant on its books, but the American is currently lacking superlicense points.

Who better for a team like Williams to take 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 that the team would be willing to send him on an internship with a rival team.

“I would loan Oscar to a team as long as I get him back,” Rossi said in June. “We have invested a lot in Oscar, we believe in him and that is why he is our reserve driver. He is a very promising talent.

“We would love to realize that talent in the team. So a loan, like many other drivers, going to another team, learning the ropes and then coming back to us will be a good scenario.

Would Williams be willing to take on another team’s driver, knowing that he would indeed be honing him for a possible return to his own team? Absolutely, says Williams CEO Jost Capito.

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“I think if it was best for us then we would consider that,” Capito said. “If it’s not the best, if we have another better solution, we’ll go with the best solution.

Piastri’s chances of making his F1 debut in 2023 look strong

“We have different options. And those are the options that we are also thinking about. And we will ultimately go with what we believe is best for the team. But it’s too early to go into details, because we’re not there yet.

Assuming Piastri’s future isn’t revealed with an announcement during the August break, speculation over his future will only intensify once the sport meets at Spa-Francorchamps to start the final leg of the championship. While Alpine has yet to meet one of its obligations to train inexperienced riders in two Friday practice sessions this season, sporting director Alan Permane says the 21-year-old will not will no longer have a lot of time to wait to get his first outing in a Grand Prix session.

“It’s not a big problem to find a weekend, there are plenty of them, and I think we will see Oscar in our car at Spa or Monza for the first time,” Permane revealed in Hungary.

Whichever team he ends up with, Oscar Piastri’s Formula 1 debut is now inevitable. Today, Alonso may have just given Alpine the simplest solution to their young rider dilemma.

Check out the current F1 2023 driver and team list

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