Alpine boss' staggering call on Daniel Ricciardo-Oscar Piastri drama

Pictured left to right, Aussie F1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Oscar Piastri.
Speculation is growing that Daniel Ricciardo and Oscar Piastri could be swapping teams for 2023. Pic: Getty

Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer has added a new layer of intrigue to the Formula One future of Daniel Ricciardo after admitting that he would have no problem with the Aussie driver making a sensational return.

Formerly known as Renault, Ricciardo spent two years at the French manufacturer before making the move to McLaren for the 2021 season.

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Things haven't exactly gone to plan for Ricciardo at McLaren over the last two seasons, with the 33-year-old's future a source of constant speculation.

That has only intensified in recent weeks, with reports rising Aussie star Oscar Piastri and his manager - Australian former F1 racer Mark Webber - have arranged a deal with McLaren to allow the 21-year-old to get his break in the championship next year by replacing Ricciardo.

Ricciardo has already indicated he intends to see out his contract with McLaren and has no intention of leaving the team but may find himself with a decision to make if it's clear his team would prefer Piastri on the grid next year.

Having won the Formula Three and Formula Two championships in back-to-back campaigns, Piastri's potential has made him hot property on the F1 circuit.

The Melbourne-born driver has spent 2022 as a reserve driver for Alpine but appears set to leave the team at the end of the season.

Alpine were this week left red-faced after announcing reserve driver Piastri as part of the team's 2023 driver line-up in the wake of Fernando Alonso's shock decision to join Aston Martin, only for the young Aussie to refute the idea that any such agreement was in place.

Now Alpine's team principal has added further intrigue to the saga by commenting on the possibility of the two Aussie drivers swapping places in 2023.

Szafnauer says he would have no issues welcoming Ricciardo back to the team he left for McLaren, adding that drivers such as Alonso have done the same thing in the past.

“I mean, if you look at Fernando, for example, he comes and goes, and I think that happens to other drivers too,” he told reporters before Piastri made his public response.

“And I don't think that's an issue at all. I think what we need to focus on are the plans that we have for the next races.

“We've got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us. And we put the best driver in next to Esteban [Ocon], so that we can move forward towards what we've been planning.”

Oscar Piastri 'will not be driving for Alpine' in 2023

When asked if Piastri potentially wanting to go to McLaren instead of Alpine would cause damage to their relationship, Szafnauer insisted he was experienced enough to overcome such obstacles, adding: “Hopefully we don't have to go down that route, anyway.”

Piastri tweeted that he had no knowledge of the decision to race for Alpine in 2023, and that he had no intention of fulfilling the role next season.

That has sparked a rumoured legal battle with McLaren reportedly having agreed to race Piastri while looking to ditch Ricciardo, who has underperformed since joining the British team.

"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 via his Twitter page.

Aussie talent Oscar Piastri caused a stir in F1 after denying he had signed for Alpine in 2023. (Getty Images)
Aussie talent Oscar Piastri caused a stir in F1 after denying he had signed for Alpine in 2023. (Getty Images)

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

However, Szafnauer told reporters the Alpine team believes it has a legally-binding deal with Piastri for at least 2023 and possibly 2024.

"I'm not privy to whatever pre-arrangements he has with McLaren, if any at all," Szafnauer said.

"What I do know is that he does have contractual obligations to us. And we do to him.

"Those obligations last through '23, and possibly in '24, if some options are taken up."

Neither McLaren nor Piastri's management have spoken on the dispute, which could land at the desk of F1's contracts recognition board - a body which settles disputes between teams over drivers.

McLaren have Ricciardo and British driver Lando Norris on their books but Ricciardo's underwhelming performances with the English outfit have put his place at the team in jeopardy.

with agencies

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