Former Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer has claimed the Oscar Piastri saga could have ended in a “much different” way if the case was tested in the English courts.
Piastri proved to be one of the major Formula 1 talking points in 2022 despite not even being on the grid after snubbing Alpine’s promotion from test to race driver to replace Fernando Alonso who was to depart for Aston Martin.
It became clear that Piastri had signed with McLaren for F1 2023, the case going to the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board with both teams feeling they had a valid contract for Piastri’s service. McLaren ultimately won the case.
Oscar Piastri verdict could have been ‘much different’
Speaking in an interview with Peter Windsor, Szafnauer claimed that the exit from Piastri’s Alpine deal, which was facilitated by the CRB ruling, would not have been so easy to find in English courts.
However, Szafnauer said the decision was taken out of his hands, leaving him with the only option being to accept defeat and “wish Oscar well”.
“We definitely performed the contract,” Szafnauer reflected.
“There’s a CRB test that landed on the side of Oscar and McLaren. But that’s not the only test and had we tested the contract in the English courts, because it was governed by English law, the outcome could have been much different than the CRB.
“We performed, Oscar didn’t. From a CRB perspective there was an out, but from an English law perspective it could have been different.
“But the decision was made to not continue the fight and just let it be as it is. And that’s okay, that was a decision that I didn’t make, that was a decision that was made for me, but I wish Oscar well.”
Coming years ‘more telling’ for Oscar Piastri in F1
Piastri showed in F1 2023 exactly why McLaren fought so hard for his services, making the podium twice and taking sprint victory in Qatar as part of an impressive rookie season.
It was experienced and highly rated team-mate Lando Norris who still won out comfortably for podiums and points scored though, achieving seven podiums to Piastri’s two and scoring 205 points to Piastri’s 97.
Szafnauer points out that Piastri’s year of rookie learning of course played a major role in that, as he predicted the coming years to be “more telling” regarding the calibre of driver McLaren have on their hands.
“He performed well against Lando,” said Szafnauer. “I think to me, next year or the year after, will be more telling.
“You’ve got to give Oscar the year of getting used to the team, the circuits, with the car that’s underneath him and then we’ll see.
“I think Lando is exceptional and you can see that in the comparison. Although everyone says Oscar did a good job, because he did, I think Lando was still quite a way ahead. Not all races, but in total points and some of the head-to-head comparisons.
“But one of the reasons is because Oscar was a rookie and next year he’ll have that experience that a rookie doesn’t have and then we’ll see how much closer it is.”
The F1 2024 grid will be unique for the fact that it will be unchanged from how the driver line-ups ended in 2023, Szafnauer predicting this will allow Piastri and Williams’ Logan Sargeant, also a rookie in 2023, to close the gap to their respective team-mates.
Szafnauer is also keen to see how Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda match up as Ricciardo prepares for a full season with Red Bull’s second team, knowing there is the potential opportunity to replace Sergio Perez at Red Bull come 2025.
Asked whether the Piastri contract saga perhaps contributed to this reluctance from teams to change drivers, Szafnauer replied: “Yeah, that’s odd, that’s really odd.
“But because of it, I think the rookies should be closer to their team-mates and it’ll be interesting to see Logan Sargeant, for example, at Williams with [Alex] Albon next door, you would anticipate Logan to be closer to Albon and the entire team being better off.
“And it’ll also be interesting to see how Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel compare in another season.”
The F1 2024 campaign is set to be contested across a record 24 rounds.