Oscar Piastri at centre of Alpine court bombshell amid messy F1 saga

·5-min read
Alpine could appeal in the High Court is Oscar Piastri refuses to drive for them in 2023. Pic: Getty
Alpine could appeal in the High Court is Oscar Piastri refuses to drive for them in 2023. Pic: Getty

Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer says he's more than "90 percent certain" the messy situation involving reserve driver Oscar Piastri will end up in the London High Court.

Szafnauer has indicated the Renault-owned F1 team could seek million of dollars in compensation if the young Aussie star refuses to drive for them in 2023.

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It comes after the French team were last week left shocked when Piastri took to Twitter to refute suggestions from Alpine that he had an agreement in place to drive with the F1 team next season.

"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.

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

Widespread speculation erupted in the wake of Piastri's shock move, with many reports suggesting he and manager Mark Webber could be eyeing a potential seat at McLaren, to replace compatriot Daniel Ricciardo.

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

McLaren have both Ricciardo and Lando Norris under contract for 2023, with the British team likely to have to pay out the remainder of the underperforming Ricciardo's contract if they decide to pursue other options.

It's been widely reported that McLaren, who are fighting Alpine for fourth in the championship, have told Ricciardo he is being dropped for Piastri, last year's Formula Two champion.

Alpine supported Piastri's junior career as he won F3 and F2 championships in 2020 and 2021, but were also hit with a double blow as Fernando Alonso jumped ship to Aston Martin.

Szafnauer took aim at Piastri in the wake of his comments, questioning the Aussie young gun's loyalty and claiming he has never witnessed anything of the sort in his years in F1.

The Alpine team principal is adamant Piastri has a contract with the French team in 2023 and says if he refuses to drive for them, then a date in the High Court could be inevitable.

"Going to the High Court is over 90 percent certain that's what we'll do," he told Reuters on Monday.

The American said he contacted Formula One's Contract Recognition Board (CRB) last week but that avenue might not be sufficient.

"If the CRB says 'your licence is only valid at Alpine', and then he (Piastri) says 'that's great but I'm never driving for them, I'll just sit out a year', then you've got to go to the High Court for compensation," said Szafnauer.

There has been speculation that the two teams will ultimately come to an understanding that could see race-winner Ricciardo return to Alpine (formerly named Renault), the 33-year-old Aussie's employers before McLaren.

Alpine have invested millions into Oscar Piastri

Alpine have spent heavily on preparing Piastri for Formula One, with independent tests and thousands of km in last year's car including one at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

An F1 power unit alone costs some EUR1.75 million ($A2.5 m) and there is also the expense of a dedicated test team of mechanics and engineers who need flights, cars and hotels.

"We haven't sat down with the accountants to figure out everything we've spent. We will have to do that if we go to the High Court," said Szafnauer.

He said Piastri had signed a Heads of Terms agreement with Alpine in November last year which set out the path to a 2023 race debut.

The deal included the possibility of being loaned to another team for a year.

The legal argument will likely revolve around potential loopholes.

Piastri had looked set for a year at tail-enders Williams before Alonso, seemingly close to an extension at Alpine, suddenly announced he was joining Aston Martin and sent the driver market into a spin.

Szafnauer said he understood Alonso's reasoning, with the money and length of contract likely key factors for the 41-year-old Spaniard, but had expected Piastri to show integrity and loyalty.

"I started in 1989 in Formula 1 and I've never seen anything like this. And it's not about Formula 1, it's about integrity as a human being," Szafnauer said.

"For me, the way I grew up, I don't need to sign a piece of paper and then have someone say, 'You're lying, because you signed this.' For me, if you say, 'Hey, help me, I'll help you tomorrow,' there's no way I would go back on my word. No way.

"He should (drive with the) team that has taken care of him, that has taken him to the world championship and, above all, that during the last year has put him in a Formula 1 car so that he would be ready, so that he would know the circuits.

"There should be some loyalty to the fact that we have invested literally millions and millions of euros to prepare him. So I don't understand it either, you should ask him."

with AAP

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