The FIA court of arbitration has ruled: The contract between Oscar Piastri and McLaren is valid. The Australian will replace Daniel Riccardo in the coming season. Alpine has to look for a new driver.
That was a tough affair. The so-called "Contract Recognition Board" (CRB) took on the Oscar Piastri case on Monday. McLaren and Alpine had both claimed to have a valid contract with the young Australian. But it was not until Friday (September 2nd), between the two free practice sessions in Zandvoort, that the verdict finally reached the e-mail inboxes of the world press.
In the end, the four lawyers in the FIA court of arbitration came to a clear conclusion: "The panel made the unanimous decision that the only valid contract between McLaren and Mr. Piastri was signed on July 4, 2022. Mr. Piastri is allowed in will drive for McLaren for the 2023 and 2024 seasons," the CRB announced.
Alpine loses legal dispute
There was no precise reason for the verdict. The interpretation of the disputed details in the contracts was confidentially communicated only to the two teams. It is clear, however, that Alpine is the loser from the matter. The French factory racing team firmly assumed that the junior driver would have to remain on board in 2023 after the costly training and would replace Fernando Alonso.
"We would like to thank the Contract Recognition Board for taking on the matter on Monday. We recognize the decision. For us, the matter is closed," the team explained in a short statement. Apparently, the legal position of the French is much weaker than one would like to admit. There should only be one contract for 2022 as a reserve driver and declarations of intent without signatures for the following years. In juggling Alonso and Piastri, Alpine had apparently forgotten to strike a firm agreement with both riders. "They gambled too long and badly at that," it says in the paddock.
Alpine now has to take what's left in the driver's market. "We will announce our decision on our driver pairing for 2023 shortly." The sparrows are already whistling it from the roofs that Alpha Tauri pilot Pierre Gasly will take over the vacant seat from Alonso. The Red Bull top cleared the way for the Frenchman despite a valid contract for the change. However, Alpine will have to pay a severance package to secure the 26-year-old from Rouen's services. The explosive thing is that Esteban Ocon and Gasly are not exactly considered good friends. This promises to be a hot duel.
Multi-year contract for Piastri
Everything has now been clarified at McLaren. Just minutes after the CRB decision, the racing team officially announced that Oscar Piastri had signed a multi-year contract beginning with the 2023 season."He can look back on an impressive racing career. We are sure that he can take us a step forward together with Lando," explained team manager Andreas Seidl.
The advance laurels are great. It would be a bitter disappointment if the young Australian went down in a duel with teammate Lando Norris like his compatriot Daniel Ricciardo, who recently didn't see a trick in the internal duel. Company boss Zak Brown is convinced of the qualities of the rookie: "With Lando and Oscar we have a young and exciting driver pairing with great potential."
The driver himself, who aroused desires in the premier class with championship titles in Formula 3 and Formula 2, was relieved that the change can now take place: "I'm happy that I'm making my F1 debut with to give to a glorious team like McLaren. It's undoubtedly a great place to start your F1 career. I've come a long way. I've been racing for 12 years. It's been my dream from the start."
Difficult parting with Alpine
Working with Alpine for the rest of the season might get a bit more complicated now. It is hard to imagine that Piastri's current employer will continue the extensive learning program with test drives in an old F1 racer and many simulator assignments. Those responsible should be more than annoyed that McLaren will now reap the credit for the costly training. On the other hand, you can make life difficult for McLaren at least this season by not releasing Piastri from his reserve driver contract and thus preventing him from completing two more Friday training sessions for his future racing team. In that case, McLaren would have to stay true to its original plan, pick two of the three IndyCar drivers Colton Herta, Patricio O'Ward and Alex Palou for the Friday test and start working with Piastri on January 1st.
Piastri gave a little greeting to Alpine as a farewell: "I would like to thank everyone who has accompanied me on this journey - including my colleagues at Alpine in recent years. And I would like to thank McLaren for the opportunity to was offered to me. The team has a long tradition of giving young riders a chance. I'm looking forward to working hard alongside Lando and pushing the team forward."
As the CRB judgment reveals, McLaren had already signed the contract with Piastri on July 4th - i.e. shortly after the British Grand Prix. According to team boss Seidl, Ricciardo was informed transparently about all steps. So it is somewhat surprising that Ricciardo announced on July 13 via his social media channels that he felt committed to McLaren until the end of the coming season and did not want to say goodbye prematurely.Apparently he sweetened this inevitable farewell with a few million severance pay. McLaren could have circumvented the dilemma with the two Australians by offering Piastri a reserve driver contract with the prospect of a regular place, in the hope of later coming to an amicable separation with Ricciardo.
One question remains. Did McLaren notify Alpine competition directly about the Piastri contract right after July 4th? Supposedly yes. If that's the case, Alpine has to ask itself why, in the negotiation poker with Alonso, a split with the two-time world champion was allowed to happen without immediately implementing plan B so that you don't end up empty-handed. Someone in the team must have known that the deal for 2023 and 2024 is worth nothing. If not boss Laurent Rossi, then at least the in-house lawyers.