The next season of Drive to Survive is set to be doozy, and Alpine is to thank.
The Formula 1 team has become a laughing stock after Australian young gun Oscar Piastri rejected an offer to join their driver line-up next year.
On Wednesday morning, Alpine announced Piastri would partner with France’s Estaban Ocon next season.
According to the F1 team, Piastri will replacing veteran driver Fernando Alonso, who dramatically blindsided his team and signed a multi-year deal with Aston Martin after Sebastian Vettel’s retirement opened up a seat.
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But Piastri posted a defiant response to the press release on social media a couple of hours later.
“I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year,” he wrote.
“This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
Alpine returned serve soon after, with a spokesperson telling the BBC: “We believe we are legally correct in our statement but don’t have anything further to say.”
The off-track drama has only fuelled rumours that Piastri and his manager, Australian F1 legend Mark Webber, are eyeing Daniel Ricciardo’s seat at McLaren.
Ricciardo is contracted with the Woking-based team until the end of 2023, but the Aussie has repeatedly struggled to keep up with teammate Lando Norris this season.
Piastri’s bombshell statement suggests he and Webber are confident the McLaren seat is all but secure.
If that’s the case, what’s next for Ricciardo? Would Ricciardo return to Alpine? Would he take his chances with one of the smaller teams? Would he retire? Would he go to IndyCar?
The Mirror’s Daniel Moxon tweeted: “So what’s next? It’s anyone’s guess really. The matter-of-fact tone of Piastri’s statement suggests he has another seat lined up elsewhere, possibly at McLaren. If so, what happens to Daniel Ricciardo? Will he return to Alpine?”
The BBC’s Andrew Benson posted: “This raises further questions about Daniel Ricciardo’s future, because if Piastri says he will not be racing for Alpine, he clearly believes he will be racing elsewhere. And the only team that has a seat that might be considered at least as good an option as Alpine is McLaren.”
If Ricciardo were moved aside ahead of next season, McLaren would presumably be forced into forking out millions to break their contract with the 33-year-old.
The West Australian driver has made it abundantly clear he has no interest in departing McLaren anytime soon.
“There have been a lot of rumours around my future in Formula 1, but I want you to hear it from me,” he posted to Instagram last month.
“I am committed to McLaren until the end of next year and am not walking away from the sport. Appreciate it hasn’t always been easy, but who wants easy!
“I’m working my a** off with the team to make improvements and get the car right and back to the front where it belongs. I still want this more than ever.”
When asked about Piastri’s potential move to McLaren, Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer told Autosport: “I’m not privy to whatever prearrangements he (Webber) has with McLaren, if any at all.
“But I hear the same rumours 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 honouring those obligations all year.
“And those obligations, last through ‘23, and possibly in ‘24, if some options are taken up.
“So therefore we do have a legal contract with him into the future for ‘23. And if an option is taken up, for ‘24. So I don’t know what he’s done with McLaren. Like I said, I’m not privy to that.
“Oscar and his camp are considering their options, whatever that means.”
Inevitably, the Piastri saga has baffled the F1 community.
Fans have ruthlessly ripped into Alpine for seemingly jumping the gun, while Alonso couldn’t resist adding to the theatrics with a cheeky social media post.
Szafnauer claimed that Alonso informed him on the weekend he hadn’t signed with anyone else, and the Alpine boss revealed he hadn’t been able to contact the Spaniard because he was in a boat in the Greek Islands.
That only made things worse for the under-fire team, with Alonso posting a picture of himself from Oviedo in Spain.
Piastri’s talent can’t be ignored — the Victorian is the reigning F2 champion, having won the F3 title the previous year.
Despite winning three consecutive titles in a stellar junior racing career, Piastri has been made to bide his time as Alpine’s reserve driver this year.
He joined McLaren’s pool of reserve drivers earlier this season, coming close to an F1 debut after Ricciardo tested positive to Covid-19 ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Last month, F1 commentator Martin Brundle predicted the young Aussie would find a way to the 2023 grid.
“Piastri has got to be in F1 next year whatever it is and whatever comes his way he has got to take it,” he said at the time.
“He has to outperform whatever he gets as Mark Webber did at Minardi and (Ayrton) Senna did at Toleman for example.
“It won’t be easy for Oscar but it’s not out of the question.”