There is a contractual mess happening in Formula 1 right now involving Oscar Piastri and Alpine, but it is not the first one we have seen over the years
Michael Schumacher had been contracted to race for Jordan for the rest of the 1991 season having contested the Belgian Grand Prix with them, but he agreed a deal with Benetton instead.
The driver contract recognition board (CRB) was created as a result, and it is designed to carefully read over drivers’ contracts and determine their validity.
Jordan gelt as though the German, whom they had given his debut, was obliged to race with them, but Ross Brawn’s Benetton team signed him instead.
In 2005 and 2006, Jenson Button agreed deals to leave BAR and return to his first-ever team, Williams, but he was still under contract with the British-American side, so the move never materialised.
It is likely that the CRB stepped in to advise, and again when Giedo van der Garde felt as though he had a deal to race with Sauber in 2015, only for the Swiss side to go with a line-up of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr instead.
The Dutchman had initially filed a lawsuit to race with them, but ultimately opted to drop the case.
Now, Oscar Piastri and his manager, Mark Webber, believe that they have found way to wriggle out of the Australian’s contract with Alpine, and are thought to have struck a deal with McLaren.
Piastri was unhappy at being kept waiting for a loan move as Alpine waited until they knew of Fernando Alonso’s future and, when the double world champion was announced as Aston Martin’s new driver after the retirement of Sebastian Vettel, the French side promoted Piastri.
However, last year’s Formula 2 champion affirmed that he had not signed anything, and that he had no interest in joining the side in 2023.
Alpine are adamant that Piastri has a contractual obligation to join them next season, so it is possible that the case will go to court.
FIA president, Mohammed ben Sulayem, confirmed that this is a situation that the CRB need to look at.
“The FIA’s Driver Contract Recognition Board (CRB) was set up to deal with contract priority issues between drivers and F1 teams. That’s why we rely on their decision to resolve any conflict,” he tweeted.
Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, who has criticised both Alonso and Piastri for their lack of “integrity,” conceded that he will likely have to go down the legal route to ask for compensation from Piastri.
“Going to the High Court is over 90 per cent certain that’s what we’ll do,” he said, quoted by the Express.
“If the CRB says ‘your licence is only valid at Alpine’, and then he says ‘that’s great but I’m never driving for them, I’ll just sit out a year’, then you’ve got to go to the High Court for compensation.
“We haven’t sat down with the accountants to figure out everything we’ve spent. We will have to do that if we go to the High Court.”
Szafnauer’s affirmation that financial compensation is what he is looking for from the court case is highly indicative that he is no longer interested in having Piastri as his driver.
The Romanian-American has recently argued that Alpine have done a lot for Piastri’s career over the years, and have given him financial support during his rise, so it is only fair that he repays the Enstone-based side.
Should the 21-year-old join McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo would be the likely candidate to switch over from the British team and return to the side he left in 2020 – Szafnauer has indicated that he would be open to this.