Daniel Ricciardo's $21 million move as McLaren exit gains traction

Daniel Ricciardo is pictured sitting in his McLaren F1 car.
Daniel Ricciardo could seek as much as $21 million in a payout from McLaren if they look to break his contract early. (Photo by Robert Szaniszló/NurPhoto via Getty Images) (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Daniel Ricciardo has been trapped in an F1 nightmare this season, but enduring it could make the West Australian millions of dollars richer.

McLaren is caught in a somewhat enviable position in F1 currently, with Australia's Oscar Piastri spurning key rival Alpine in order to chase Ricciardo's seat in 2023.

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Piastri's illustrious junior career, in which he won F3 and F2 championships in back to back years, was backed by Alpine, who offered him a role as reserve driver for 2022.

This was believed to be on the proviso that Alpine assisted Piastri in finding an F1 seat for 2023, with the Melbourne-born driver and his manager Mark Webber insistent on getting into the top flight of motorsport as quickly as possible.

Little had been confirmed for Piastri until Alpine's Fernando Alonso announced a shock move to Aston Martin, opening the seat for Piastri.

In a stunning turn of events though, Piastri publicly rebuked Alpine's announcement of his drive for next year, saying he did not have a contract in place for 2023.

It has since emerged that McLaren is a preferred destination for Piastri - though that would require Ricciardo to step aside of his own volition.

McLaren have no contractual ways of ending their agreement with Ricciardo unless he does so himself - which reports suggest could lead to a potential $21 million windfall.

Speedcafe wrote that McLaren had offered Piastri a contract, with the 21-year-old believing he and Alpine did not have a valid contract for 2023.

Alpine have already stated their preparedness to take the case to court, seeking compensation for the millions of euros invested in Piastri's successful junior career as well as various F1 tests around the world.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer 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.

Alpine and McLaren in F1 standoff over Oscar Piastri

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 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.

Oscar Piastri is pictured at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Oscar Piastri is believed to be eyeing a seat at McLaren, where he would replace fellow Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo. (Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images) (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

"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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