It has been an extraordinary and tumultuous two days for the Alpine F1 team.
In the space of just 48 hours, the Anglo-French outfit lost Fernando Alonso and also appears to have lost their highly-rated junior driver Oscar Piastri in one of the most remarkable F1 rows of recent times.
The chaotic events have seen the 2023 driver market explode into life and led to a messy public dispute. But how did we get here?
making sense of madness
Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix – the final race before the summer break – Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from F1 at the end of the 2022 season.
Naturally, thoughts quickly turned to who might replace the four-time world champion. Alonso, whose contract with Alpine was expiring, seemed like a dream statement signing for Aston Martin.
Although the Spaniard refused to completely rule a switch out, everything pointed towards him staying put for 2023. That’s what Alpine also believed, with Alonso assuring the team he had not signed with anyone else as the team prepared to leave Hungary on Sunday night.
The following morning, Aston Martin confirmed they had signed Alonso on a multi-year contract beginning in 2023, sending shockwaves through F1.
The bombshell news took Alpine by surprise, with team principal Otmar Szafnauer telling reporters in a press conference on August 2 that he first learned of Alonso’s departure when he read Aston Martin’s official press release.
Just hours later on late Tuesday afternoon, Alpine announced that Piastri, who won last year’s F2 championship, would make his F1 debut in 2023 “in line with the commitments made by the team to the young Australian”.
But Piastri responded by tweeting that he had “not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023 and will not be driving for them next year”. The 21-year-old said the announcement was “wrong” and had come “without my agreement”.
Prior to Alonso’s shock exit, Alpine had been looking to find Piastri a spot on the grid, with Williams at one stage appearing to be Piastri’s most likely destination.
The nature of Piastri’s public condemnation of Alpine’s announcement suggests he is confident about having another deal already lined up. Piastri, who is managed by ex-F1 driver Mark Webber, is understood to have an agreement with McLaren.
What happens next?
The dramatic stand-off, which appears to have been orchestrated by Alonso – who, just minutes after Piastri’s tweet, posted a video of him sticking his thumb up on Instagram – is set to rumble on.
Both parties believe they are in the right and a contractual tug-of-war looks set to follow during what is meant to be F1’s quietest period since the season began.
The unraveling contract saga echoes a similar motorsport dispute that is ongoing between Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren over the destination of reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou.
Ganassi has issued a lawsuit against Palou after the Spaniard denied the team’s announcement that he is under contract for 2023 and beyond. Hours later, McLaren issued their own press release claiming that Palou had signed with them.
A similar situation occurred in F1 back in 2004 when BAR-Honda and Williams were both convinced they had legitimate deals with Jenson Button, who had tried to quit BAR to rejoin Williams.
BAR ultimately won their fight with Williams for Button to drive for them in 2005 after F1’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB) ruled in their favor.
Intriguingly, Szafnauer, then vice president of Honda Racing, was also involved.
Should the Alpine/Piastri dispute end up in a legal battle, the outcomes are seemingly two-fold; either Piastri stays and races for Alpine in 2023, or some kind of settlement deal with McLaren is reached.
Where does this leave Ricciardo?
The complicated tussle leaves question marks surrounding the future of Daniel Ricciardo, who is under contract at McLaren until the end of the 2023 season.
Should Piastri get his way, he will replace his compatriot at McLaren.
Ricciardo’s future has been the subject of intense speculation ever since McLaren boss Zak Brown admitted the under-performing Australian’s time with the team had not met expectations.
However, on July 13, Ricciardo issued a statement insisting he would not walk away from F1 and underlined his commitment to seeing out the rest of his McLaren contract.
If McLaren end up fielding Piastri alongside Lando Norris next season, they will have to pay off Ricciardo, and that won’t be cheap.
While Alpine hopes that Piastri will fill the seat vacated by Alonso, alternative options will be considered should the team not be able to keep the highly-rated youngster, who is considered a future F1 star.
As an eight-time grand prix winner, Ricciardo would be the most attractive and obvious option on the market for Alpine, despite the fact he left the Enstone team after just two years to join McLaren in 2021.
It would be a potentially awkward move, given Ricciardo’s decision to quit did not go down well with the Renault hierarchy. However, Alpine’s team management has since changed and they could be left facing a driver market limbo if they lose Piastri.
Speaking prior to the Piastri development on Tuesday, Szafnauer did not rule out a return for Ricciardo.
Plenty more twists and turns are likely before this driver market drama is resolved.