Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi has said his team secured Oscar Piastri a seat with Williams, but the driver thought he was above that.
The contract saga between Alpine and Piastri goes down as one of the most bizarre disputes Formula 1 has seen for many a year.
Alpine announced Piastri as the 2023 replacement for Fernando Alonso, only for the Australian to deny he would be racing for the team. Speculation then began to swirl that Piastri had signed a deal with McLaren to replace Daniel Ricciardo.
The matter was heard by Formula 1’s Contract Recognition Board, with Piastri later confirmed as Lando Norris’ McLaren team-mate from 2023.
Piastri, the 2021 Formula 2 champion, had been spending the 2022 season as Alpine’s reserve driver, the team set on finding a place on the 2023 grid for their junior driver, either with them or on loan at another team.
And in an interview with the Formula 1 website, Rossi revealed a deal had been in place for Piastri to join Williams in 2023 – and although McLaren are higher ranked than Williams in the current standings, Rossi is surprised with the attitude Piastri had towards that Williams opportunity.
“By the end of April, we found him a seat at Williams,” Rossi revealed.
“When the Williams opportunity was about to turn into a concrete deal, so much so that the seat fitting was scheduled, they (Piastri’s management team) said ‘we have a possible opportunity at McLaren’.
“It was a bit disappointing. We felt it was a bit strange because we expected a bit more loyalty considering how much we put in there. He didn’t say he was going to go, he said he had an opportunity.
“Then we saw in July, the sixth I think, that [Daniel] Ricciardo was confirming for the year after (this is two days after, it later emerged, Piastri had signed with McLaren). So we thought there is interest, but there might not even be a seat.
“There was perhaps an opportunity [at McLaren, but] the door is closing, so Oscar is still in play for us. It explains why we decided to promote him – he was reserve and we elevated in the same framework to race driver.
“Otmar [Szafnauer, Alpine team principal] saw him, told him and we announced it. We never knew for a fact he had signed [for McLaren]. He never told us.
“We still believed the Williams seat was a great one, a great opportunity to learn with a bit less pressure – a very good team to learn in, very seasoned, capable of growing talents like George [Russell].
“But we could understand he was attracted by the prospect of a better challenge sporting-wise. We felt when we had the chance to offer him a better seat, I would contend, with us, because we are a works team, we felt like we would offer it to him and he would accept it as there was no better option – Ricciardo was staying.
“We acted very logically, in line with our commitment to him. From our perspective, it’s a very linear, simple story. We have been so committed. I don’t think we could have given more to any driver, to be honest.
“Like George [Russell] before him, who went to Williams before returning to Mercedes, like Charles [Leclerc] who went to Sauber before returning to Ferrari, like Max [Verstappen] and like Sebastian [Vettel], who both raced for Toro Rosso before driving for Red Bull, they all did a ‘junior’ team before moving up.
“I’m a bit surprised Oscar thought that first, he was better than Williams. I can understand from a sporting perspective McLaren might be more interesting based on pure on-track results than Williams, but we didn’t expect that after so much support, so much loyalty, they would use that back door to shop around and get what felt like a better contract for them. Those are not the values we exhibited.
“This is how I see the story. Of course, we made mistakes, otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about the topic, but we feel we stayed very true to our commitment, to our values and to our words to Oscar.
“But I would say things happen for a reason. We are not sharing the same conceptions of things, and perhaps not sharing the same values, so it’s perhaps better this way, to be parting ways.”
Nicholas Latifi must be on his way out of Williams then
If back in April there was a chance for Piastri to race for Williams from 2023, then it must mean Williams are prepared to, and are planning on, letting Nicholas Latifi go.
After all, it would surely not have been Albon’s seat under threat, the Anglo-Thai driver having impressed in Williams colours after returning to Formula 1 this season. A few months after Piastri’s Williams opportunity was on the table, the team had signed Albon to a new multi-year deal as ‘silly season’ threatened to get busy.
Latifi did very little to prove he deserves to stay in Formula 1 last time out at Monza, outqualified and soundly beaten in the race by Nyck de Vries, a very late replacement for Albon who sadly was suffering with appendicitis and so could not continue in the race weekend after Friday.
Williams have not announced their 2023 line-up yet, although Rossi’s reveal suggests Latifi will not be a part of it.