After the 2006 British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton’s father, Anthony , was a frustrated man, even though his son, then a GP2 Series star, had just scored a memorable double victory in both races in that Weekend.
Anthony was very upset about the situation at McLaren and felt the need to express his opinion to this writer.
The main thing was that he and his son were like this because of the lack of information from McLaren about the future. Naturally, Hamilton’s father felt Lewis was more than ready for Formula 1, and wanted the Woking guys to give him a starting seat, and if they didn’t, Anthony suggested they move on to another team.
A few weeks later, the British team announced that Hamilton would take a place in the Great Circus in 2007, along with Fernando Alonso.
Sixteen years later, history repeats itself. Once again, the name of the moment and those who manage his career seem to be frustrated with the team that has been supporting his sports career. And curiously, Alonso and McLaren appear again in history.
The big difference is that this time the struggling young man has truly left, leaving his mentors stumbling, thinking the ideal lies elsewhere.
The episode between Oscar Piastri and Alpine is far from over, and it remains to be seen how it plays out legally.
However, both parties have made their positions clear. The French are convinced that they have a contract with the Australian for 2023, while Piastri and those who manage him believe that they were free to sign for McLaren.
To recap, it was in January 2020 that Alpine announced Piastri as a member of what was then the Renault Driver Academy . His hiring came after winning the title in the Eurocup category, and the winner had the opportunity to join the Formula 1 structure if he wanted it as a prize.
Mark Webber helped seal the deal, but it wasn’t until several weeks later that the former Red Bull driver was publicly confirmed as Piastri’s manager in a press release from his company, JAM Sports Management .
JAM is not a one man company. Webber works with a team led by his wife Ann, who helped him so much in his own career, and a CEO in the form of an Australian businessman, Jason Allen. JAM also looks at Formula E driver Mitch Evans , World Javelin Champion Kelsey-Lee Barber , and various rising stars of the two-wheel world.
The company’s website states that the “approach to business is based on a few simple core values: integrity, honesty, loyalty, respect, responsibility and commitment.”
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Renault and later Alpine supported Piastri on his way through the ranks to win in Formula 3 and Formula 2, successes that took him to the gates of Formula 1 perhaps quicker than expected. what i expected
That created a big problem. With Alonso and Esteban Ocon confirmed for 2022, Alpine had no choice but to give the Australian a reserve driver role as he prepared for the Grand Circus with private testing in a car from previous years, the occasional FP1 session and endless of sessions in the simulator.
The second setback would come in 2023. Ocon was still under contract, and it was obvious that Alonso had every intention of extending his stay.
So a few months ago, Alpine began talking to Williams about a possible loan move, similar to what they did with George Russell at Grove.
That’s when at some point in the last few weeks, McLaren entered the picture. Team principal Andreas Seidl worked closely with Webber in his time with Porsche in the WEC, and they remain friends. In addition, Piastri was named the Woking team’s reserve driver in March, with Alpine’s permission.
So it wasn’t hard for McLaren to ask Webber a simple question. Would Piastri come with them if they got rid of Daniel Ricciardo?
Inevitably, Webber and Piastri were interested, as McLaren would be a clear step up from Williams. The big difference was that Woking CEO Zak Brown and his partners wanted to have full rights to the youngster, and not leave Alpine “tied” to him for a possible return in 2024 or 2025. The Australian manager confirmed that, from his point of view, his driver could sign for McLaren, since he had no obligations with Alpine.
It was only after such a deal was reached that Piastri would take on a reserve role in 2023, pending a deal with Ricciardo, after Alonso had shocked Alpine by signing for Aston Martin, without even formally stopping talks over the upcoming season.
That meant his seat at Alpine was available to Piastri. However, that ship had sailed…
Earlier last week, French team principal Otmar Szafnauer and CEO Laurent Rossi were already aware that the young Australian driver had been seduced by McLaren. They soon played their legal hand by announcing that he would race for Alpine next year, knowing the likely answer would be “no, I won’t,” which is exactly what happened.
In Woking they insist that the pilot is free, and that the corresponding contract was simply not signed [there was no deadline until July 31, or anything like that].
The bad for Alpine comes because they lost sight of the driver market, they did not foresee that Alonso and Piastri would find other options, and that the team would suddenly go from having three drivers to none.
Alpine sources deny this and suggest that the team’s papers say they still have until December 31 to decide what to do with Piastri next year, whether to give him a seat at Enstone or place him at Williams. There is also an option for 2024 that runs until mid-September 2023.
Whatever the legal situation, have Webber and Piastri made the right decision?
Naturally, every driver wants to be in the best possible car as soon as possible.
However, a year or even two alongside Alex Albon at Williams would have been a good place to learn. Not going directly to a major team didn’t hurt Russell, nor did drivers like Alonso at Minardi, Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso, and Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc at Sauber, to name just a few.
It turns out that Piastri is not actually walking away from Williams, but from the possibility of starting his career at Alpine, a works team of a car manufacturer, let’s not forget.
Ocon has been there for a while and is well established, but Piastri himself has been with the team for three years. He would have had the full support of a team that has invested in him, and therefore given him time to gain experience and make the kinds of mistakes that rookies normally have to go through and learn from.
At McLaren he will be in an unknown environment, and will face Lando Norris, Zak Brown’s protégé, who will be in his fifth year with the team. The Briton is very good, and he is totally comfortable in Woking, having passed through their ranks as a junior.
Piastri, obviously hugely talented, will be the newcomer, the man who also has to justify to the world that Ricciardo was worth getting rid of for him. History can count on him to do so, but it’s a tall order.
An obvious question remains, will McLaren be more competitive than Alpine in the next three or four years? Nobody can answer that yet and so going to Woking is kind of a flip of a coin.
It is inevitable that the dispute will now go to the Contract Recognition Board, the body that F1 teams agreed many years ago would pass judgment on such matters.
It could be that Piastri and Webber were right on a legal technicality, and that Alpine missed something, or forgot to tick a box, allowing the young Australian to evade any commitment. One could argue that this is typical F1 practice, piranhas in action.
However, Alpine has made it clear that there is something here that goes beyond any legal issue buried in a contract, and that is loyalty and the other core values highlighted by JAM’s own website.
Sometimes young drivers tied to F1 teams can find themselves at a dead end, and you can’t blame them for wanting to break free.
However, Renault/Alpine had a genuine intention to take Piastri from Formula Renault to F1, and the team did everything possible to make that happen, despite Alonso/Ocon’s blockade that seemed likely to force him to start. his apprenticeship at the Great Circus with Williams.
Consider what Alpine has done at the Piastri race in 2022 alone. So far it has done some 3,500km out of a planned 5,000km of private testing, including a test with the RS18 at Paul Ricard in February, followed by others. A521 sessions at COTA, Doha, the Red Bull Ring, Silverstone and Monza.
He is scheduled to take part in two official free practice sessions sometime after the summer break.
The team has spent millions of euros to carry out those tests and prepare it to arrive in F1 as ready as possible.
And in return, Piastri and Webber appear to have given Alpine the middle finger and headed off into the Woking sunset.
In doing so, they have angered not only Alpine and Groupe Renault in general, but also Williams, snubbed in favor of McLaren.
It is possible that Piastri will turn out to be so good and in demand that McLaren will soon be battling the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and even Red Bull, so they won’t have to worry about upsetting teams lower down the grid.
However, F1 is a small world. You never know when Piastri might need a favor in the future. One can also speculate that the next time Webber has a young driver at his side he will not find it so easy to get support.
Most important is what this case could mean for young driver programs in motorsports. A company like Renault, with accountable board members and shareholders, might think twice the next time its F1 team asks it to help a young driver.
Why invest millions if the pilot can get off so easily?
There is a strong possibility that Alpine’s next move will go beyond the Contract Recognition Board and into court, if the team decides it wants to recoup what it has spent preparing Piastri for F1.