McLaren has reportedly signed Oscar Piastri in a shock move set to shake up the F1 grid and force Daniel Ricciardo out of the team a year early.
F1 is on its mid-year break and the silly season went into overdrive this week when Piastri emphatically denied he would be filling the spare Alpine seat vacated by Fernando Alonso, who is joining Aston Martin.
The bold public statement surprised many fans and fuelled speculation Piastri and his manager, former Australian F1 driver Mark Webber, were eyeing Ricciardo’s spot at McLaren.
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And it appears that is indeed the case. Multiple outlets reported on Friday night McLaren had signed Piastri for next season and informed Ricciardo his services would not be required in 2023.
RacingNews365.com reported Piastri has a contract with Alpine for 2022, but not for 2023.
Piastri’s deal with McLaren was said to be have been finalised on July 30, before Alonso’s switch to Aston Martin was announced.
He was able to walk away from Alpine because his 2023 deal was never properly signed, according to Motorsport.com.
The messy contract saga appears set to go to F1’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB), which could well side with McLaren given it’s unclear whether Alpine lodged a contract with the CRB that covered 2023.
The bombshell development means Piastri, a 21-year-old prodigy, is effectively taking the seat of Ricciardo, a fellow Australian.
Piastri won three titles in a stellar junior racing career but has been made to bide his time on the sidelines as Alpine’s reserve driver this season.
Ricciardo has repeatedly made it clear he planned to see out his contract with McLaren, which expires at the end of 2023.
But several public reassurances from McLaren boss Zak Brown fell short of a ringing endorsement and left the door ajar for the team to give Ricciardo the flick.
Sacking Ricciardo with a year left to run on his contract could prove an expensive decision for McLaren.
The Woking-based team could face the scenario where it is paying Ricciardo some or all of his wages in 2023 while he drives for another team.
He is believed to be on a salary of around AU$21 million in 2022.
Several outlets are reporting McLaren would have to cough up a pay out of approximately AU$19 million to force Ricciardo out of his contract early.
As for the Aussie veteran’s future — he could fill the vacant seat at Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon. A move to Alfa Romeo isn’t out of the question either.
Joining Alpine — formerly known as Renault — in 2019, Ricciardo jumped ship after just two seasons and signed for McLaren ahead of 2021.
Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer said this week he was open to Ricciardo returning to the French outfit — formerly known as Renault, where he spent two underwhelming seasons in 2019 and 2020.