Formula 1: The posse between Alpine and Oscar Piastri continues

Matters are officially closed, but the bizarre case of Oscar Piastri continues to occupy Formula 1. There are so many questions about the details and the basics: How did the back and forth about the promotion of the talented driver to the premier class really go? Who is telling the truth? The main actors of the summer posse, Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer and Piastri, caused a new need for discussion when they commented on the cause on Saturday before the Dutch Grand Prix.

Szafnauer sat in a question and answer session with other team bosses. However, he was asked so many questions that his two colleagues could have left the room and devoted themselves to other tasks. Inconsistencies in the course of the contractual dispute between Piastri, Alpine and McLaren arose after the 21-year-old Australian on the Formula 1 homepage described his view in detail for the first time. Piastri said there was a lack of clarity around the talks about his future at Alpine. He had “a bit of a strange feeling in the negotiations” that what happened was “confusing and annoying”.

Szafnauer should position himself for this, he had to, in his own interest. For him, it’s not just about maintaining his reputation as the boss of a team belonging to a large corporation (Renault), but also about saving Alpine’s reputation. The 58-year-old and the racing team make an unhappy figure: Fernando Alonso gone, Piastri gone – and those who should actually be in control seem surprised and unprepared. “I think Alpine’s image is based on what happens on the track and how we perform,” said Szafnauer. “That’s what we’re focusing on.” At Zandvoort, that wasn’t entirely possible, at least for him.

The new statements confuse more than they help clarify

In order to be aware of the curiosity of the story, the entire course must be considered: After Sebastian Vettel announced the end of his career at the beginning of August, Fernando Alonso surprisingly left Alpine to take over Vettel’s cockpit at Aston Martin. A replacement is required. The Piastri, who was funded by Alpine with many test kilometers, among other things, is announced as the driver for 2023. As with McLaren this season, he is the reserve driver here, an obvious and understandable solution. So far, so normal. Yet Piastri immediately vehemently denied it on Twitter and thus triggers astonishment, irritation and a contract dispute.

Is there an agreement with Alpine from November 2021 that the French are referring to? Or the agreement with McLaren, which made room for Piastri by separating Daniel Ricciardo early? On Monday, an arbitration panel sat down its decision was announced on Friday: The contract between Piastri and McLaren, probably dated July 4, 2022, is the only one to be recognized, according to the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) responsible for contract review. There was no exact reason publicly, but that was the end of the farce. McLaren and Piastri were looking forward to working together, while losers Alpine said: “We consider the matter closed for our part.” The new statements about the course now confuse more than they contribute to clarification.

Peaceful handshakes in Zandvoort: Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer and McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl both wanted the same driver.

(Photo: Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images/Imago)

An example of this is a scene that, according to Szafnauer, happened like this: After a simulator test by Piastri, he told the driver about the announcement of his Formula 1 commitment, apart from them there was only one technician in the room. Piastri then smiled at him and said “thank you”. That seemed ice cold in view of his denials a few hours later. In the paddock, there was astonishment at this rumored behavior, as well as doubts about the integrity of the youngster and criticism of the lack of loyalty.

Piastri saved it all differently. In addition, he contradicted Szafnauer’s statement that he had known nothing about the change intentions. His decision was made long before Alonso’s departure and communicated to the team. That’s why the announcement of his commitment was “even more confusing and annoying” – as was the encounter in the simulator.

“It was a bizarre and also disturbing episode. It happened in front of some team members who were unaware of the situation and I didn’t want to make a scene in front of them,” said Piastri, who thus remembers the number of overhears differently. “When we were alone, I told Otmar what he had been told several times before.” He immediately and decisively contradicted his alleged obligation because his management otherwise feared imminent legal consequences.

For McLaren, on the other hand, the case was always clear. Team boss Andreas Seidl spoke on the second morning lap on Saturday and gave insight: “You have to have two things if you want a driver to drive for you in Formula 1: a contract and registration with the Contract Recognition Board. We had both in July. ” It is said that Alpine only had a letter of intent on hand, not a signed paper.

Aside from the strong car, Piastri said of his election it was the enthusiasm of Seidl and team owner Zak Brown that convinced him to sign, as did the prospect of having Lando Norris as a colleague. “I know it will be a challenge,” he said. “But I believe McLaren is the right place for me to start my life in Formula 1.” After the turmoil of the past few weeks, the Formula 3 and Formula 2 champion will be under particular scrutiny in his first races.

“I have never lied. And I will never do that,” explains Szafnauer

In any case, it is understandable that Pisatri had looked for an alternative: Alpine declared that they wanted to extend Alonso by at least one year. So he might have stayed as a reserve driver or found a place with a less successful team like Williams. The fact that Alpine nevertheless announced its obligation, although it was known about it – if that was the case – can only be explained by the fact that neither side had any doubts about the validity of the agreements. Szafnauer said on Saturday: “We had the impression that the contractual agreements with Oscar were valid.” He saw the chances of success before the CRB as 50:50 and only found out about the exact date of the contract between the Australian and McLaren from the CRB. Before that there were only rumours. Who is telling the truth? “I’ve never lied,” Szafnauer declared, “and I never will.”

This weekend, which of course fits perfectly, Oscar Piastri drove in the simulator for Alpine again and was with the team at the track in Zandvoort. Whether the cooperation will continue until the end of the year will be decided on Monday, said Otmar Szafnauer. Then the pilot and team boss want to sit down to talk about the future together – and maybe also to compare the memories of the past together.

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