Zak Brown hits back at Otmar Szafnauer’s ‘level of credibility’ accusation

Michelle Foster
Zak Brown and Otmar Szafnauer in a press conference at the Steiermark Grand Prix. Austria June 2021

Zak Brown and Otmar Szafnauer in a press conference at the Steiermark Grand Prix. Austria June 2021

Zak Brown says Otmar Szafnauer has no right to question Oscar Piastri’s integrity as he does not “come with the highest level of credibility” himself.

Alpine and McLaren will face off in a Contract Recognition Board hearing on Monday, the teams fighting over the services of reigning Formula 2 champion Piastri.

With Fernando Alonso off to Aston Martin next season Alpine announced Piastri would replace him, only for the Australian to reject the seat having already signed for another team – which is said to be McLaren.

The Woking team have not confirmed they are the other party involved in the contract saga, but Brown defending Piastri is the biggest hint yet.

Earlier this week, Szafnauer, smarting over Piastri’s rejection, called the 21-year-old’s character into question.

“He’s a promising young driver,” said the team boss. “He hasn’t driven in Formula 1 yet and my wish for Oscar is he had a bit more integrity.

“He signed a piece of paper as well back in November and we’ve done everything on our end of the bargain to prepare him for Formula 1, and his end of the bargain was to either drive for us or take a seat where we would place him for the next three years.

“I just wish Oscar would have remembered what he signed in November and what he signed up to.”

However, McLaren CEO Brown reckons Szafnauer is the last person who has a right to question another’s integrity.

“Ultimately, I don’t know any of the details between that relationship,” he told Sky Sports.  “So I think it would be unfair for me to take a position either way because I simply don’t know.

“But judging by recent times, the way Fernando has departed and caught Otmar by surprise, and not too long ago he is the recipient of a €400,000 fine and 15 points [deduction], I’m not sure he comes with the highest level of credibility and making accusations around ethics.”

That monetary fine and points Brown referred to relates to the brake ducts controversy of 2020 that Szafnauer, as team boss at Racing Point, was involved in.

The team were found guilty of illegally copying parts from the 2019 championship-winning Mercedes car.

Oscar Piastri walking on the grid with headphones around his neck. Imola April 2022.
Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri walking on the grid with headphones around his neck. Imola April 2022.

If they win, will Alpine want to race Oscar Piastri?

Even if Alpine win Monday’s hearing, it seems the team may be more in favour of receiving compensation from McLaren than putting the Australian in the car given he has given no indication of wanting to race for Alpine.

Szafnauer says Alpine are still working with Piastri, the driver is in the simulator and that the relationship is fine – that implying he would be okay if the relationship continued into 2023 and beyond.

But as the team boss has questioned the driver’s integrity, it may be fine on Szafnauer’s part but Piastri is unlikely to feel the same.

He clearly wants to race for McLaren – why else would he publicly humiliate Alpine by rejecting their offer? Especially if hours before he had led his team boss to believe he was “happy and thankful” for the 2023 race seat.

That bridge has been burned.

Alpine are going into Monday’s hearing seeking redemption and for the world to know they did not mess up the contract negotiations. And they will want compensation from the driver or his 2023 team.

But the other big question is will McLaren pay compensation, which will be in the millions, as they already have to pay out Daniel Ricciardo and that is said to be around $25million.

If they say no, tell Alpine that Piastri is theirs, the Australian could yet find himself sitting on the sidelines with Ricciardo for company.