German racing legend Ralf Schumacher has pleaded for Alpine not to block Oscar Piastri’s path to Formula 1, arguing the team only has itself to blame for losing the prodigy driver.
Australian star Daniel Ricciardo became embroiled in F1’s mid-year silly season following reports he will be replaced by young compatriot Piastri at McLaren next year.
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The messy contract situation erupted after two-time world champion Fernando Alonso blindsided the F1 world and jumped into Sebastian Vettel’s vacated seat at Aston Martin.
Alpine then announced Piastri would replace Alonso in 2023, only for the 21-year-old Melburnian to reject the seat — a bold move for someone who is yet to drive in F1.
The Enstone team asserts that Piastri, Alpine’s reserve driver for 2022, should respect the contract, but the Victorian believes the commitment is not valid because an option clause expired.
The matter could be settled to the courtroom – Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer threatened to file a civil lawsuit to recover the millions of dollars spent on training Piastri this season.
“I expected more loyalty from Oscar than he is showing,” Szafnauer told Spanish publication The confidential.
“I started in 1989 in Formula 1 and I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s not about Formula 1, it’s about integrity as a human being.
“For me, the way I grew up, I don’t need to sign a piece of paper and then have someone say, ‘You’re lying, because you signed this’.”
According to French publication Auto Hebdothe FIA’s Driver Contract Recognition Board has found that both Piastri’s Alpine and McLaren contracts are valid.
speaking to Sky F1 in GermanySchumacher argued Alpine’s contract woes were self-inflicted, calling on the F1 team to respect Piastri’s wishes.
“Piastri has done everything right,” he started.
“Now we can only hope that the sore loser – in this case Alpine – doesn’t put obstacles in the boy’s path. Piastri was with them, they had everything in hand, all they had to do was give him a contract.
“I’m sorry. I like Otmar, but he will be disappointed in his own performance, that he did not see it coming with Alonso and that he does not have a plan B. That’s the embarrassing thing about the whole saga.
“Accordingly, he has to blame himself. Oscar did nothing wrong. At the end of the day, Alpine could have questioned Alonso earlier and made it clear to Piastri that they would be relying on him in the future.
“He won Formula 3 in his first year, and Formula 2 as well. What should he be waiting for? I would have done the same if I had been offered a job.
“One thing was clear; Alpine wasn’t interested in putting Piastri in the car next year at the beginning because they saw that young drivers need a certain amount of time (until they arrive in Formula 1).
“They wanted to put him somewhere else for one or two years. There was an option from Alpine to (put Piastri in the cockpit), but it wasn’t taken because they didn’t expect Fernando Alonso to leave.
“When you have such a jewel, it’s criminal to let him go. If you’re then unable to get the contracts right yourself, you can’t blame the young man.
“You also have to remember one thing; Piastri’s manager Mark Webber has a very, very close relationship with McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl.”
On Friday, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem claimed the contract issue would be solved through their own means instead of in the courtroom.
“The FIA’s Driver Contract Recognition Board (CRB) was set up to deal with contract priority issues between drivers and F1 teams,” he tweeted.
“That’s why we rely on their decision to resolve any conflict.”
Meanwhile, Ricciardo is reportedly seeking a whopping $21 million payout to walk away from his contract with McLaren.
The 33-year-old is reportedly only party who can break his contract with the team, which expires at the end of 2023.
A payout would clear the way for McLaren to officially sign Piastri.