Alpine claim over Piastri as Ricciardo faces McLaren exit

Oscar Piastri and Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo is expected to be replaced at McLaren for the 2023 Formula 1 season by Oscar Piastri.

Ricciardo has reportedly been asked to make way for his compatriot for next season, despite having a valid contract with the team.

In turn, Piastri will join Woking’s side alongside Lando Norris on a two plus one deal.

All of this comes despite Alpine’s assertive stance to the contrary, and McLaren’s radio silence.

The world of motorsport has been raging since Monday, when Fernando Alonso’s decision to join Aston Martin for 2023 was announced.

On Friday, it was revealed that Piastri had signed a deal with McLaren for next year, which had been accepted by the Contract Recognition Board, an FIA structure.

The primary function of the CRB is to provide resolution to driver contract disputes in days rather than weeks, without the need to engage in costly legal proceedings.

This is an organization included in the Sporting Regulations of Formula 1, and cited in Appendix 11 of the Concorde Agreement, the commercial contract between the teams and the sports rights holder (Liberty Media).

The CRB is believed to have deemed McLaren to hold a valid contract with Piastri for 2023.

In effect, this means, at least in the eyes of the FIA, that Alpine has no legal rights over the Aussie.

That’s not necessarily the end of the matter, although pursuing it opens a costly legal pandora’s box and calls into question aspects of the Concorde deal itself.

When speaking to the media on Tuesday, Szafnauer outlined Alpine’s position and opinion on the matter.

His comments predate Alpine’s “confirmation” of Piastri, but provide insight into Enstone’s thinking.

“I am not aware of the prior arrangements he has [Piastri] a with McLaren, if any, but I hear the same rumors as you,” Szafnauer began.

“But what I do know is that he has contractual obligations towards us, and we have some towards him.

“We have honored these bonds all year, and these bonds last until 23 and possibly 24 if certain options are taken.

“Our obligation to him this year was to be a reserve driver, to also put him in last year’s car for a significant amount of time – we have well over half of that 5,000 kilometer program, which is not Not trivial, last year car in preparation for a race seat next year – also free practice 1, simulator work.

“We have fulfilled these obligations on both sides,” he added.

“So he played, we played, so we have a legal contract with him going forward for ’23 and, if an option is taken, for ’24.

“I don’t know what he did with McLaren, like I said, I’m not aware of that.”

Piastri is believed to have signed a deal with McLaren over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend and was housed at the CRB on July 30, ahead of Alonso’s departure from Alpine.

Szafnauer said he only learned of the Spaniard’s defection from the media on Monday.

He then spoke to the media on Tuesday morning, having spent the previous afternoon answering calls from potential drivers.

That leaves little time to get to the bottom of Piastri’s contractual situation to figure out exactly what rights Alpine has over him.

Nonetheless, Szafnauer is adamant his team has a valid claim to the Melburnian and believes it is Alpine who has the right to decide where he will drive in 2023.

“So the contract terms, you know those details that we don’t like to divulge, but that was on the side of the team to say it, not on the side of the driver,” he said.

He went on to explain the process of Piastri’s contractual conversion from the team’s reserve driver to a full-time driver.

“There are considerations for going from a reserve driver contract with options, to become a race driver, to this race driver contract,” he said.

“But we are fully capable of taking it.

“It’s just when you switch to racing driver; a racing driver signs today, for some, four different contracts.

“There are trade agreements, testing agreements, racing agreements, linking agreements, there are all those kinds of things. And those are for all kinds of different considerations.

“When you go from reserve driver to race driver, all of that has to happen as well.

“But yes, we have the right to take it.”

Szafnauer’s stance seems at odds with the week’s developments as they are supposed to have transpired.

On the other side of the ledger, it is suggested that McLaren informed Ricciardo during the Hungarian Grand Prix that he would be replaced by Piastri next season.

If that were indeed the case, a settlement should be reached given that the 33-year-old has a deal for 2023.

It is understood that the option to continue next season is on Ricciardo’s side and would therefore need his cooperation.

Another possibility, if he doesn’t agree to step down, is that Piastri takes on the role of reserve driver at McLaren next year and then enters a race in 2024.

This is believed to be unlikely with Ricciardo expected to reach a settlement and move on, clearing the way for his compatriot.

With few high caliber riders and competitive seats on the market, therefore, the logical extension is a return to Alpine.

It was a move Szafnauer suggested the operation would be open to.

“In the short term, we now have to replace Fernando with the absolute best driver, but what we mustn’t forget is that we have [a] 100 races to start winning races and fighting for a championship,” Szafnauer explained.

“We are over 10 races, so we have about 80 races left.

“The choice for us has to be one that complements that goal.

“That driver who’s sitting next to Esteban [Ocon] must be the best choice for us, which complements and helps us achieve this goal.

“If you look at Fernando, for example, he comes and goes, and I think it happens to other drivers as well,” he added, referring specifically to a return from Ricciardo.

“I don’t think it’s a problem at all.

“I think what we need to focus on, for the plans we have, for the next 89/88 races.

“We have to make sure we complete that plan with the best possible driver, and there are options available to us.”

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