Alpine have ‘lessons to be learned’ as Oscar Piastri saga heads to CRB

Thomas Maher
Alpine's Oscar Piastri at the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal, June 2022.

Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer has said his team will “learn lessons” from the Oscar Piastri contract situation, which is up before the Contracts Recognition Board on Monday.

Piastri and Alpine are off to have their contract situation reviewed, with the case going before the FIA’s Contracts Recognition Board (CRB).

The CRB is made up of independent lawyers who specialise in contract law and help adjudicate on matters of contract disputes within F1.

Following on from the situation in which Piastri was announced as an Alpine F1 driver for 2023, which he immediately rebuffed as untrue, the situation should be resolved quickly as the CRB review the case on Monday.

Piastri is a product of the Alpine Driver Academy, is the current Formula 2 champion and serves as the team’s official reserve driver. It is understood Piastri has signed a deal to race for McLaren in 2023, replacing ousted Daniel Ricciardo.

Why are Alpine heading to the CRB?

Given Alpine’s investment into Piastri over the past two years, Szafnauer said it was “logical” for Alpine to take the case to the CRB as they believe they have a rightful claim for Piastri’s services.

“[We’re] going to the CRB on Monday and we’ll have the CRB decide which contract Oscar signed takes precedence,” he said over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

“Once we have that ruling, we will look forward and see where we go.

“I think going to the CRB is the logical next step when you believe you have a valid contract with the driver and he signed something else.

“This has happened in the past. I just happened to be there when it happened to Jenson Button when he signed for Williams (in 2004 for 2005) but BAR Honda rightfully took up their option on Jenson.

“Jenson really wanted to go to Williams, BAR Honda won at the CRB and then had a great relationship with Jenson, culminating in a World Championship, albeit that was the year after Honda left but it was still basically the same team.”

Szafnauer expressed confidence in the contract he and Alpine believe is in place with Piastri.

“I’ve seen both sides of the argument,” he clarified.

“We are confident Oscar signed with us in November. There are certain things that need to be in the contract and I’m confident they are in there.”

Otmar Szafnauer pinpoints when McLaren contact with Piastri began

Piastri also became a reserve driver for McLaren and Mercedes this season, an agreement Alpine agreed to early on, and Szafnauer suspects first contact about a 2023 race seat came about as a result of Piastri’s dealings with McLaren.

“So both McLaren and Mercedes came to us and asked for Oscar’s services if they needed him,” he said.

Fernando Alonso alongside Oscar Piastri. Monaco May 2022.

“We had first right of refusal. So if we both needed him to step in, as a reserve, and remember this is at a time when we were just coming off COVID and there’s more probability a reserve driver steps in, as we saw happen in recent times.

“So out of goodwill to both McLaren and Mercedes, we offered Oscar as a reserve driver and selfishly, if he did drive for one of those teams, to prepare himself even more for us in the future. Our relationship was all about preparing Oscar for the future, and that’s what we did.

“We looked at it as well, if there’s an opportunity – you have three times the probability of getting in a car this year, we should take that and if we can get a race or two under his belt, we’d be better off because he’d be driving for us in the future. So that’s the reason we did it.”

While an obvious concern, should the CRB rule Piastri is contracted to Alpine, is that the relationship could be very fractious, Szafnauer said he does not expect there to be any issues. Even in the midst of the furore, Piastri served as a development and simulator driver for Alpine over the Belgian GP weekend.

“He’s back at Enstone driving our simulator, helping with car set-up,” Szafnauer said on Saturday.

“We need to prepare Oscar in no different manner than we have in the past, so the relationship hasn’t wavered and we continue.”

Regardless of the outcome of the CRB meetings, Szafnauer said Alpine will take a different approach to their dealings with their own Academy drivers and their contracts going forward.

“There are lessons to be learned for sure,” he said.

“So we’ll have a good backward look and, like anything, we’ll analyse and if there are a few things we can do better, I’m sure we’ll incorporate those in our future dealings.”