Alpine reserve driver, Oscar Piastri, has revealed that he told the team he would not be racing with them in 2022, only for them to announce him anyway.
Piastri won the Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles consecutively in 2020 and 2021, but there were no seats available to him this year.
The Australian had been part of the Alpine academy for several years, so the French side promoted him to the role of test and reserve driver, with the hope of getting him into Formula 1 in the coming years.
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, was negotiating with the Enstone-based team on a new contract, and they were reportedly only willing to keep him on for another year, with an option for him to extend to the end of 2024.
This would mean that Piastri would not get a seat with Alpine until 2025, so he needed experience elsewhere with another team.
Williams looked the most likely option, but this was not materialising, so it looked as though the soon-to-be McLaren driver would be stuck for the next two years until the double world champion left.
However, frustrated with Alpine’s desire to keep him around despite the fact he would not have a race seat with them for another two years, Piastri went looking elsewhere.
His adventures took him to McLaren, where Daniel Ricciardo has been struggling since he joined the team last season.
Piastri made a deal with CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl, and on the 4 July, he signed a contract with the British side to replace his compatriot.
The 21-year-old then told his current employers what was happening but, after Alonso too – frustrated at the team putting limitations on his career – decided to pack up and leave for Aston Martin to replace Sebastian Vettel, Alpine announced that Piastri had been promoted.
The F2 champion later took to Twitter to publicly deny this, as he had already signed a deal with McLaren, and Alpine were not happy.
Szafnauer questioned Piastri’s “integrity,” and stated that he wanted “compensation” for the funding the team had put into the Australian’s career.
The case was reviewed by the contract recognition board (CRB), who confirmed that Piastri’s deal with McLaren is valid.
Alonso previously affirmed that his negotiations with Alpine were all about Piastri’s future, and the Australian has now revealed that his talks broke down because the team wanted to keep him in their programme, but could not put him in their car due to their commitment to Alonso for at least another year.
In the end, the indecision as to whom Alpine wanted in the long run led to the Aussie looking elsewhere.
“The CRB ruling has confirmed I didn’t have a contract for the 2023 season [with Alpine],” Piastri told Formula1.com.
“I was free to choose my destiny, and I felt McLaren was a great opportunity, they were very straightforward and very keen and enthusiastic to have me.
“To be completely honest, there was a lack of clarity around my future at the team at Alpine; they publicly stated they wished to continue with Fernando for at least one or two more years.
“I respect that, but after spending the year out, my hopes were firmly set on an Alpine seat and the lack of clarity and, similarly to Fernando, a bit of a strange feeling in negotiations, it didn’t feel like it was the right decision for me [to stay].
“The lack of clarity around my future, and ultimately a breakdown in trust, I felt the very attractive offer of McLaren and the positive dealings with them thus far were all reasons why I felt McLaren was where I was best off for the future.”
Piastri confirmed that he had made his choice nearly a month before Vettel sent the driver market into a frenzy by announcing his retirement.
He had already told Alpine that he was leaving at the end of this season, so their announcement on 2 August made for an incredibly awkward situation.
“My decision was made well in advance [of Alonso’s departure], which made Alpine’s announcement probably even more confusing and upsetting because we had told the team that I wasn’t going to continue,” added Piastri.
“It was quite upsetting as the announcement was false and it also denied me the opportunity to properly say goodbye to everyone at Enstone.
“I had been with team for a bit over two and a half years now, and for the rest of the team to find out I was leaving in that manner was very upsetting.
“I still haven’t had the opportunity to say goodbye and it’s something I want to do to show my gratitude to all the men and women at Enstone.”
Many of the team members at Alpine were not aware of the fact that Piastri had signed with another team, so Szafnauer created an uncomfortable situation when he announced, in front of members of the team, that Piastri was going to be working with them next year.
“That was a bizarre and frankly upsetting episode, it was done publicly in front of some members of the team who were oblivious to the situation and I didn’t want to cause a scene in front of them,” he explained.
“Once we were in private, I told Otmar what our position was and what he had been told multiple times before that.
“It was very surprising to me to make that announcement.”
Alpine have decided not to appeal the CRB’s decision on Piastri, but the inquest will now surely begin in Enstone as to how they started the year with three of the most talented drivers in motorsport, and ended up with just one.