The door has been left ajar for Australian F1 hopeful Oscar Piastri to potentially replace Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren as silly season rumours begin to pick up speed.
Rumours have emerged that Piastri, the 2020 F3 and 2021 F2 champion, could potentially replace his fellow Aussie at McLaren should a potential seat with Williams not be offered.
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F1 observers have lamented that there was no room on the 2022 grid for Piastri, who accepted a role as test and reserve driver for Alpine for 2022.
Part of his deal with Alpine was that the team would help him find a seat in F1 for 2023 if they couldn't accomodate him themselves, an eventuality that seems increasingly likely with Esteban Ocon performing well and under contract, while two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso would appear well placed to retain his seat.
Piastri has been linked to a seat alongside Alex Albon at Williams, with the British team likely to part ways with Nicholas Latifi at the end of the season.
Nothing has been set in stone yet though, and Ricciardo's continuing struggles at McLaren may have opened the door for Piastri.
The Race F1 reporter Scott Mitchell wrote that the longer Piastri was on the market, and the more Ricciardo struggles, the more appealing his fellow Australian would be to the Woking outfit.
"(Alonso's contract) seems like a formality but may be dragged out beyond the summer nonetheless – further postponing Piastri’s own contract talks, and potentially keeping him on the market long enough for McLaren to be able to gazump Williams," Mitchell wrote.
"Ricciardo holds the key to the 2023 driver market. If he stays, as he is perfectly entitled to do and may yet decide is the right thing for him, then in all likelihood the much-expected Piastri-to-Williams deal will be ticked off without fuss.
"If Ricciardo goes, then all bets are off. Will McLaren be keen on loaning Piastri? Would a driver like Alex Albon be a better fit, as it would have a better chance of locking him down longer-term?"
Ricciardo's sad admission after breakthrough at Austrian GP
Ricciardo made some progress towards turning his dismal 2022 season around, recording his third points finish of the season with 9th place in Austria.
The increasing points gap between Norris and Ricciardo has been a talking point this season, with some even questioning if McLaren will keep the 33-year-old on for the final year of his contract next season.
Though both McLaren drivers turned in impressive, if low-key performances to recover from a poor qualifying session, it wasn't lost on Ricciardo that more work needed to be done.
McLaren benefited from the retirments of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Red Bull's Sergio Perez seperately, with Ricciardo and Norris also doing well to gain places on the opening lap.
Despite this, Ricciardo admitted it was an underwhelming result at a traditionally strong circuit for McLaren.
“It was OK. I’m obviously happy to have moved forward and got a couple points out of it," he said afterwards.
“But yeah, I would have loved a bit more pace.
“There were certainly some areas where I felt better yesterday. (I) didn’t quite have at all times what I wanted in the car today, particularly the first stint.
“I locked up at the start and got a very big flat spot on the first stint and I struggled a lot through all the right hand corners.
“That was quite a shame because I think we had good track position — I think I made up one or two spots on the first lap. That was good but then didn’t have the pace.
“With newer tyres, it was a little bit better but it still wasn’t everything I hoped for. All that being said, it was a decent race. It was solid but just decent.”
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