How Sebastian Vettel unwittingly sparked F1’s craziest silly season yet

Jon Wilde
Fernando Alonso grinning next to Sebastian Vettel. Baku June 2022.

Formula 1’s 2022 ‘silly season’ certainly lived up to its name – much of it unwittingly sparked by Sebastian Vettel.

The 35-year-old German was something of a firebrand at one time, but has mellowed considerably now he is a father of three and an activist for social and environmental causes.

All he did was decide the end of 2022 was the time for him to retire – and within days, all hell had broken loose.

Here is a timeline of what unfolded in the familiar game of F1 musical chairs – with one young driver surprisingly eager to avoid a particular seat that had his name written all over it in big, bold letters…

July 28th: On the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, Vettel announces he will retire at the end of the 2022 season.

“The decision to retire has been a difficult one for me to take and I have spent a lot of time thinking about it,” said the four-time former World Champion.

That left Aston Martin searching for a driver to partner Lance Stroll, having said in the preceding days they had “no plan B”.

August 1st: “Plan B” suddenly emerges at 9am Monday morning UK time – in the form of El Plan.

Aston Martin announce they have signed Fernando Alonso on a multi-year contract, with the Spaniard clearly seeing them as having more potential than Alpine whom he had decided to leave.

“This Aston Martin team is clearly applying the energy and commitment to win and is therefore one of the most exciting teams in Formula 1 today,” said Alonso.

August 2nd, 2pm UK time: PlanetF1 report a dispute is brewing between Alpine and McLaren, amid speculation that Oscar Piastri’s manager, Mark Webber, is trying to get the young Australian into Daniel Ricciardo’s seat.

Piastri, Alpine’s test and reserve driver, was thought to be contracted to the French team for next year and had emerged as the strong favourite to replace the departing Alonso.

“I know he has contractual obligations to us and we do to him,” said Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer. “Those obligations last through 2023 and possibly 2024 if some options are taken up. We have a legal contract with him into the future for 2023.”

August 2nd, 5.11pm UK time: Alpine duly confirm Piastri as one of their race drivers for 2023, alongside Esteban Ocon.

“Together, we believe the duo will give us the continuity we need to achieve our long-term goal of challenging for wins and championships,” said Szafnauer.

But unusually, there were no quotes in the press release from the driver…

August 2nd, 7pm UK time: Less than two hours after the Alpine confirmation comes a tweet from Piastri knocking down the announcement.

“I understand that without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release that I am driving for them next year,” said Piastri.

“This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”

August 2nd, 7pm UK time: At more or less the exact same time as the Piastri tweet, Alonso posts a video of himself on Instagram.

In the five-second clip, the Spaniard is shown walking along a street in his home town of Oviedo smirking and giving a thumbs-up, to the soundtrack of a tune with the lyrics “it feels like summer”.

Coincidence? Surely not.

August 5th: Reports emerge that McLaren have told Daniel Ricciardo he will be replaced by Piastri for the 2o23 season.

Rumours had first surfaced in mid-July that the 33-year-old Australian’s place was under threat after a largely disappointing season-and-a-half with the Woking team.

Also, it is reported that Alpine’s contract with Piastri was not as watertight as Szafnauer had claimed.

August 8th: In a media call, Szafnauer says he “expected more loyalty” from Piastri.

But the Alpine team principal maintained “I still think he is going to be in the car” next year.

August 9th: A report in France claims both Alpine and McLaren have a valid 2023 agreement with Piastri and that the matter will be resolved by the Contract Recognition Board (CRB).

August 24th: McLaren confirm Ricciardo will leave the team at the end of the season, a year before his contract is due to elapse.

Although McLaren say the split was “mutually agreed”, Ricciardo posts a video on social media in which he says “the team’s decided to make a change”.

August 27th: Sky F1 pundit Paul di Resta suggests during the channel’s Belgian Grand Prix coverage that Alpine are resigned to losing Piastri and that they will be seeking compensation from McLaren “to probably go and get Pierre Gasly from Red Bull”.

September 2nd, 2.30pm UK time: McLaren are declared winners of the Piastri tug-of-war by the CRB as the “unanimous decision” was that “the only contract to be recognised by the board is the [two-year] contract between McLaren and Mr Piastri dated July 4 2022″.

Within minutes, McLaren confirm Piastri will partner Lando Norris in 2023.

“I’m extremely excited to be making my F1 debut with such a prestigious team as McLaren and I’m very grateful for the opportunity offered to me,” says the 21-year-old Aussie.

September 2nd, 5pm UK time: Helmut Marko – who else? – gives an update on Gasly’s future, indicating Red Bull would be prepared to release him from their AlphaTauri team to join Alpine.

“If our conditions are met, we wouldn’t stand in Gasly’s way,” says the 79-year-old Austrian. “It would be a dream come true for him to drive in a French factory team.”

September 4th: More breaking news from Marko, who identifies IndyCar racer Colton Herta as the preferred replacement for Gasly.

But it depends on the American being granted an FIA Super Licence via a special dispensation, due to being short of the required number of points.

September 16th: Reports in Germany claim the FIA have vetoed the Herta to AlphaTauri move, refusing to budge on the Super Licence criteria.

It had even been suggested Alpine would allow Herta to take part in a test of their 2021 car at the Hungaroring if that boosted their own hopes of snaring Gasly.

“The whole system is wrong,” said Marko about the Super Licence process.

September 17th: After a sparkling display when deputising at Williams for appendicitis sufferer Alex Albon in the Italian Grand Prix, Nyck de Vries is reported to be the new No 1 contender to be Gasly’s successor at AlphaTauri.

According to reports from his homeland, the Dutchman met Marko in Austria and thrashed out the terms of a deal.

September 19th: De Vries admits to the meeting with Marko, but says he will test for Alpine in Hungary the following week.

“Wherever I can get a permanent seat, I would be very happy with that,” he says.

September 21st: PlanetF1 reports speculation is intensifying over Mick Schumacher’s future at Haas, with team principal Guenther Steiner saying: “We are looking at everything and talking with Mr Haas quite a lot about it. But we have not made a decision.

“We want to make sure we don’t make a quick decision and then regret it next year. A lot of people have talked to us.”

Among them is thought to be Nico Hulkenberg, about whom Steiner suggested “I think the fans would love it” if he teamed up with his former rival Kevin Magnussen.

September 23rd: In unquestionably the least surprising move of ‘silly season’, Williams announce Nicholas Latifi is to leave at the end of the season after three years in F1.

“Although we have not achieved the results together we hoped we would, it’s still been a fantastic journey,” says the Canadian.

October 7th: Here we go! Of all people, football transfer guru Fabrizio Romano tweets his trademark three words – essentially meaning ‘deal done’ – to say Gasly’s Alpine move is 99.9% complete.

It may be October but the ‘silly season’ is clearly still in full swing.

October 8th: It’s Japanese Grand Prix qualifying day on the weekend when Max Verstappen went on to become a double World Champion – but just as exciting for some was the F1 transfer news that broke at Suzuka.

Gasly was confirmed on a multi-year deal at Alpine, saying: “Driving for a team that has French roots is something very special. Clearly, Alpine’s progress and ambition is very impressive.”

Soon afterwards, De Vries officially becomes an AlphaTauri driver for 2023. “F1 has always been my dream and I’m grateful to be able to fulfil it,” says the 2019 Formula 2 champion as he switches from the Mercedes family to the Red Bull clan.

October 20th: Latest news from Haas about their 2023 driver line-up…for Schumacher “it’s still 50-50”, says Steiner.

Ricciardo is also vaguely in the frame along with Hulkenberg, about whom the Haas team boss says: “I spoke to him. I’ve known him for a long time – better than I know Daniel. We are talking, but nothing has been done yet.”

October 21st: Antonio Giovinazzi, another driver in the mix for a Haas seat, crashes early during an FP1 opportunity to stake his claim at the United States Grand Prix.

That looks to be the Italian out of the reckoning.

October 22nd: Williams boss Jost Capito confirms during a press conference at the United States Grand Prix that American rookie Logan Sargeant will partner Alex Albon next season, provided he secures a Super Licence through his results in the 2022 F2 Championship.

November 5th: The font of all F1 inside knowledge, Helmut Marko, is at it again. He believes he knows what is happening at Haas.

His prediction? Schumacher out, Hulkenberg in.

“I assume Haas will bet on a veteran,” says Marko.

November 17th: It’s official. After two seasons, Schumacher has been released by Haas.

Team owner Gene Haas makes the reasons perfectly clear. “I think Mick has a lot of potential, but he costs a fortune and he’s wrecked a lot of cars that have cost us a lot of money that we just don’t have.”

In comes Hulkenberg after three seasons without a full-time drive. “The experience and knowledge base Nico brings to the team is clear to see, with nearly 200 career starts in Formula 1,” says Steiner. “And a reputation as being a great qualifier and a solid, reliable racer.”

Those last three words? Damned with faint praise springs to mind.

November 20th: Sargeant finishes fourth in the Formula 2 Championship. That is enough to earn him a Super Licence.

The 21-year-old from Florida is formally announced as a Williams driver the following day.

November 23rd: After weeks of speculation linking him with a similar role at Mercedes, Ricciardo is confirmed as third driver at Red Bull.

“It’s great to bring Daniel back into the Red Bull family,” says team principal Christian Horner. “He has enormous talent and such a brilliant character – I know the whole factory is excited to be welcoming him home.”

And so ‘silly season’ 2022 comes to an end…but with several drivers out of contract in 2023, it probably won’t be long until F1’s game of musical chairs resumes again.

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