There was only silence after Tuesday's contract fiasco involving Alpine F1 and Oscar Piastri. Alpine claimed the reigning F2 champ would be its 2023 F1 driver, but Piastri said no way. And all along, McLaren quietly watched from the sidelines hoping to prevent another like it experienced with Alex Palou in IndyCar. Rumors of Daniel Ricciardo's departure from McLaren have lingered for months, but this new development seemed to confirm it all. While not official yet, it's evident that Woking is ready to trade one Australian for the other come 2023. Goodbye, Ricciardo. Hello, Piastri.
You have to rewind to earlier this year to understand what's truly happening here, and how it affects Ricciardo. Piastri, Alpine's longtime protégé, had two options for 2023: remain reserve driver for 2023 until Alonso's contract expired at the end of the season, or have Alpine broker a one-year deal for a race seat in 2023 with another team on the grid. Then, simply jump back to Alpine once Alonso left. The second option was unlikely, but certainly not impossible.
According to Autosport, Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer claims that Piastri and his manager Mark Webber had even signed agreements already, tying the young driver to the team until 2023, if not 2024.
“There shouldn't be any complications," Szafnauer told Autosport. "If everyone is true to the agreements that they signed back only a few months ago, we should be able to move forward with the agreements that we have in place. And those obligations last through '23, and possibly in '24, if some options are taken up."
Then Sebastian Vettel announced he was leaving the sport, opening up a seat at Aston Martin happened. The four-time F1 champion's retirement announcement set off the chain reaction that we're witnessing today. As a result, Alonso abruptly announced his departure from Alpine to join Aston Martin and left Alpine in a weird but somewhat convenient position. It would no longer have to ask Piastri to stay put for another year or maybe even race with another team. It could just hand him a full-time racing seat for 2023. Well, it turns out Piastri and Webber had already been talking to McLaren by then—well ahead of the F1 driver market imploding.
“I'm not privy to whatever pre-arrangements he has with McLaren, if any at all,” Szafnauer said. “But I hear the same rumors that you do in the pitlane. But what I do know is that he does have contractual obligations to us. And we do to him. And we've been honoring those obligations all year."
Motorsport.com goes as far as saying that McLaren has secured Piastri via a reserve driver deal, which will then be upgraded to a race seat when Ricciardo is shown the door at the end of the season. Racer claims something similar, saying that McLaren's contract with Piastri is valid "after Alpine failed to complete formalities within the timeframe it was required to."
Either way you cook this enchilada, it all results in the same outcome: Ricciardo leaving McLaren at the end of the current season. Hell, there's a chance that even if Alpine managed to retain Piastri, McLaren would just bring in Colton Herta from IndyCar.
This leaves Ricciardo's F1 career in a tough spot. The only seats known to be available for 2023 are Mick Schumacher's at Haas, and maybe Yuki Tsunoda's at AlphaTauri. Rejoining the Red Bull Racing family is likely out of the question, so that makes the Haas the only viable option. Unfortunately for Ricciardo, Ferrari has dibs on that seat.
It's worth saying that nothing is confirmed just yet. A legal battle is likely in Alpine and Piastri's future, and McLaren will likely remain mum while that's going on. This means it'll be a while—likely months—until we hear any official news regarding Ricciardo's luck. For the sake of the sport, however, I hope the Australian finds a good place to race.
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