The glaring issue crippled F1 team must address

With two established stars electing to leave and one of the most promising up-and-comers apparently refusing to drive for the team that’s bankrolled his junior career, questions are starting to be asked about what’s going on at Alpine.

First of all, Daniel Ricciardo announced ahead of the delayed 2020 season that he would leave the French outfit – then running under the Renault marque – at season’s end to move to McLaren for 2021, prompting then-team principal Cyril Abiteboul to question Ricciardo’s loyalty.

Then on Monday, Fernando Alonso sent the F1 paddock into a frenzy announcing he was jumping across the English channel to join Aston Martin for next season – a big step down the grid on this year’s form.

It seemed perfectly set up then for Oscar Piastri – the Alpine reserve driver whose development they’ve invested millions of dollars into – to slide into Alonso’s seat.

Alpine had, remember, promised the 21-year-old Aussie a seat somewhere on the F1 grid for 2023.

In a press release devoid of any quotes from Piastri, Alpine duly announced him as their 2023 driver, before Piastri posted his now-infamous Tweet declaring the announcement was false, and he would not in fact race with the Enstone squad at all.

the glaring issue crippled f1 team must address

Fernando Alonso in a press conference at the Spanish Grand Prix. Photo: Bryn Lennon

If someone who’s never started a Formula 1 Grand Prix is refusing to drive for your team, surely it begs the question why.

So is the problem the team principal? Otmar Szafnauer only joined the team – ironically from Aston Martin – at the start of the year, so to say he’s the problem would likely be unfair to him, and wouldn’t account for Ricciardo’s departure.

Cyril Abiteboul was a polarising figure in the paddock, and his loyalty comments on Ricciardo’s departure were known to have divided those working underneath him. After all, he had showed little loyalty in sacking Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer before Ricciardo’s arrival.

Renault fired Abiteboul ahead of the 2021 season citing a difference in cultural fit, and they ran the 2021 season without a full-time team principal.

the glaring issue crippled f1 team must address

Daniel Ricciardo driving for Renault – now Alpine – in 2020. Photo: Mark Thompson

If the problem is cultural, it will take years for Szafnauer to develop one of his own.

What seems more likely in this situation though, is the ineptitude of the team’s other senior staff, particularly those responsible for negotiating contracts. Having only come along this year, Szafnauer would have had zero say in that of Piastri or Alonso.

In F1 land, July 31 is a date many contract extensions or options are to be actioned by. Not doing so usually means the driver concerned becomes a free agent come August 1.

Alonso wanted two years in the race seat of an F1 car. Alpine wanted two years as well – but only one in their F1 squad. They wanted the second year to be at the wheel of their new LMDh prototype in the World Endurance Championship.

So sure were Alpine that Alonso would not find anywhere offering what he wanted, that they had all the power in the negotiations, they seemingly let the deadline pass.

the glaring issue crippled f1 team must address

Oscar Piastri in action for Alpine during a test session.

Unbeknownst to them, their complacency allowed the two-time world champion to go tyre-kicking, only for the Spaniard to stumble across exactly what he was looking for.

Eggs, faces, Alpine.

As for Piastri, Alpine believed they have a cast-iron contract that would see him in one of their cars next year. Having said that, in the world of F1 cast-iron contracts can be melted by cold hard cash.

For Piastri to so publicly denounce his employer, he and his management are either positive that Alpine contract is not so cast iron, or his 2023 bosses – Zak Brown at McLaren – are ready and willing to burn a lot of cash to bust him loose.

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