Oscar Piastri causes contractual trouble even before he has driven a Grand Prix. He's not the only rider caught between all fronts early in his career. Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel are also among them. We look back.
Oscar Piastri is a bit ahead of his colleagues. They argue about him, although he has not yet contested a single Formula 1 race. He's not the only young driver in premier class history to cause conflict. But nobody has done it so early and so colorfully. Lets Alpine co-finance the Formula 2 season and puts together a test program in a previous year's car over 5,000 kilometers and then simply cheekily says that he doesn't want to drive for Alpine. Even more, he is said to have already signed with direct competitor McLaren.
The case is already busy with the lawyers and it could end up in court if both parties don't agree on a settlement or if someone misinterpreted the clauses in the contract. Piastri set the bar pretty high with that. His first year in Formula 1 will be watched with eagle eyes. According to the motto: If someone is already so ripped off outside of the cockpit, he must also perform in the car. And without a start-up time.
Alesi with three contracts
Many are reminded of Jenson Button and Jean Alesi by Piastri's escapades. Button wanted to move back to Williams in 2005 but was reminded in time that he was still under contract with BAR. Button had to stay. And he stayed until 2008. Jean Alesi signed for Williams and Ferrari in 1990 despite a Tyrrell contract. The hot-blooded Frenchman finally drove for Ferrari in 1991. Maranello paid a decent fee to the struggling Tyrrell team.
The two cases can only be compared with the Piastri story to a limited extent. With his contract differences, Button had already been in Formula 1 for five years and was therefore a constant in the business. Alesi drove his second year with Tyrrell in 1990. Everyone knew that he was a great talent. All we know about Piastri is that he won Formula 3 and Formula 2 straight away.
For a better comparison, we are looking for racers who got caught between all fronts in their first year in Formula 1. And there are at least five stories that have a similar quality. Those of Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Good omen for Piastri: all of these pilots became world champions later in their careers.
Prost resigns because of accidents
Alain Prost shocked the establishment during test drives in Paul Ricard in the winter of 1979/1980. The newcomer ran into the stars in a McLaren and left team-mate John Watson behind.Then a point on the debut and two afterwards on the second mission. McLaren had chained the super talent to itself for years. But just a year later, Prost was sitting in the Renault. The rookie was involved in five serious accidents in his debut season because something broke on the car.
The series of accidents and a name change for the racing team gave the Frenchman the opportunity to break away from his sponsors at the end of the year in order to follow Renault's call. The factory racing team was just picking up speed and, as a turbo pioneer, had a lead in terms of experience over the competition, which was also slowly switching to turbos. McLaren was renamed McLaren International after being partially taken over by Ron Dennis. Prost had not signed a contract with this company.
Senna rejects three interested parties
Ayrton Senna was already a star before his first Formula 1 race. The Brazilian fought an epic battle with Martin Brundle in 1983 for the English Formula 3 title, which he won in the final. Four Formula 1 teams had already knocked on his door. Williams, McLaren and Brabham all had the Sao Paulo prodigy tested, but Toleman got the nod. Ironically, the smallest racing team from the quartet.
Senna justified his decision by saying that he would be number one at Toleman. With the others he didn't even know if he could drive at all. McLaren and Williams were tight. At Brabham he would have met Nelson Piquet, who demanded special status for himself. Senna signed with Toleman for three years, but built an opt-out clause into the contract.
The transfer fee was £156,000. Senna had to pay for them out of pocket but negotiated a £585,000 deal with Lotus to do so. So the Brazilian didn't have to go hungry. Toleman hoped to keep his talent. The car with the Hart R4 turbo wasn't that bad. After all, Senna almost won the Monaco GP with it. And he finished third at Brands Hatch.
Rumors leaked out in Zandvoort that Senna would drive for Lotus in 1985. Toleman was angry. The team suspended Senna for the following race at Monza because the press had been informed of the move to Lotus before Toleman. The deserter was allowed to drive the remaining two races in 1984. He said goodbye with a third place at the season finale in Estoril.
From Jordan to Benetton
Michael Schumacher's ticket to Formula 1 cost £150,000. Peter Sauber paid, Mercedes guaranteed, Jordan provided the car. And yet, one day before the race, everything was hanging in the balance. Belgian Philippe Adams appeared with a bailiff. He had paid £140,000 for a Formula 3000 seat at Jordan but never saw the car. Bernie Ecclestone organized a collection. Michael Schumacher drove the Jordan in Spa unimpressed to seventh place on the grid.
Four days after Jordan's groundbreaking debut, all was right with the world. Michael Schumacher tested at Silverstone. The conditions for the 1992 season were on the table. Jordan asked for a $3.5 million dowry. But then Schumacher's advisor Jochen Neerpasch broke off negotiations with the team and, with Ecclestone's help, directed his protégé to Benetton.
The Formula 1 boss finally had his "fast German" and he didn't want the hopeful to go sour in a midfield team. Jordan was still too young in the circus. The Irish banker also flirted with Yamaha. The Japanese engines were free. At Ford, Jordan had to pay dearly. Jordan-Yamaha was too big an unknown for Ecclestone.
Benetton-Ford was just the right place for Schumacher to land. The team, strengthened by Tom Walkinshaw, had the potential to annoy established teams such as Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Bernie has always had a good feel for such developments.
His circus needed fresh blood. So Schumacher was redirected to Benetton. Eddie Jordan threatened a bit with lawyers, Roberto Moreno received $500,000 as a settlement and the second Jordan cockpit, and in the night from Wednesday to Thursday, the Jordan pilot Schumacher became a Benetton driver.
Only correspondence with Sauber
Kimi Räikkönen was only known to junior scouts in autumn 2000. Before entering Formula 1, he had only contested 23 car races. Nevertheless, Sauber offered the then 21-year-old Finn a contract. "After Kimi's first test in Mugello, we knew: That's the one," recalls Peter Sauber. FIA boss Max Mosley only gave the rookie the super license with reservations. Raikkonen drove four races on probation. The Finn gave his doubters the right answer with a World Championship point right at the debut.
Mika Häkkinen decided to retire in the middle of the 2001 season, but only he and a few friends knew that. He quickly recognized the talent of his compatriot and sent him to McLaren with the best recommendations. Although Räikkönen lost the point comparison against teammate Nick Heidfeld with 9:12 and the training duel with 7:10, half the paddock was after the big silent man from Espoo.
When Peter Sauber initially refused to release his child prodigy, Kimi switched to duty to rule and only communicated with his boss in writing. He had learned that part of the business quickly, too. McLaren-Mercedes ended up paying a fortune to redeem Raikkonen at Sauber. Money flowed, free trucks from Stuttgart and an interest-free loan for the new wind tunnel in Hinwil.
BMW preferred Heidfeld
Sebastian Vettel's career threatened to end in a dead end in 2007.Although the man from Heppenheim caused a stir in the BMW in several Friday practice sessions, the Bavarian factory racing team was manned by Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld. Kubica's accident in Montreal gave Vettel the chance to show his talent when it counts.
He solved the task with flying colors with a seventh starting place and a world championship point on his debut. But just one race later, Kubica was back and Vettel was left empty-handed again. The prospect of the bench at BMW did not seem particularly enticing.
Nick Heidfeld pulled his head out of the noose with a strong season in 2007. He defeated Robert Kubica with 13:4 in the training duel and with 61:39 on points. Kubica struggled with the Bridgestone standard tires, which benefited Heidfeld's driving style. When BMW had to decide in 2008 whether Heidfeld or one of the test drivers Sebastian Vettel or Timo Glock should sit in the second car next to Kubica, the decision was made in favor of the tried and tested. A mistake.
Vettel used a contractual loophole. He returned to the Red Bull family because BMW didn't want to offer him a permanent cockpit for 2008. The energy drink manufacturer had a regular spot available for Vettel in the Toro Rosso junior team. Faster than expected. Scott Speed was fired after a dispute with team boss Franz Tost at the European GP. From Hungary Vettel sat in the Toro Rosso.