Szafnauer: No issue in bringing Ricciardo back to Alpine F1 team

Alpine Formula 1 team boss Otmar Szafnauer has not ruled out a return to the Enstone team for Daniel Ricciardo, should it not be able to keep Oscar Piastri.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Alpine still hopes the younger Australian will slot into the seat vacated by Fernando Alonso, and believes it has a valid contract to that effect.

The team announced on Tuesday afternoon that Piastri will drive in 2023, but shortly afterwards the Australian took to social media to deny that was the case.

Piastri is understood to have agreed a deal to go to McLaren at a time when it looked like his only option to race in 2023 was if Alpine loaned him to Williams, an arrangement that he and manager Mark Webber did not want to pursue.

The sudden availability of the Alonso seat has complicated matters for all parties.

Should Piastri win any upcoming legal tussle and end up going to McLaren then Alpine will have to look outside to replace him.

Szafnauer noted that following Monday’s announcement of Alonso’s move to Aston Martin he had already “fielded a bunch of calls from other potential drivers.”

If Ricciardo is ousted from McLaren to make way for Piastri, as a multiple race winner he will potentially be one of the most attractive options on the market, despite his recent patchy form for the Woking outfit.

The problem is that having been hired by the then Renault organisation at great expense to lead the team into the future Ricciardo decided early in his second season in 2020 to jump ship and join McLaren for 2021.

That decision didn’t go down well in the Renault camp, and while the team management has changed – with Cyril Abiteboul gone with Szafnauer and Laurent Rossi now at the helm – it could still be an issue.

Indeed, it’s understood that Renault Group boss Luca de Meo was especially frustrated by Ricciardo’s departure.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

However when asked about Ricciardo by Autosport, Szafnauer compared the situation with Alonso’s ability to return to teams, and insisted the priority was to find the right drivers to help the team with its 100-race plan of getting to the front of the field.

“I mean, if you look at Fernando, for example, he comes and goes, and I think that happens to other drivers too,” he said, speaking before Piastri's statement denying he has signed an Alpine F1 deal for 2023.

“And I don't think that's an issue at all. I think what we need to focus on is, like I say, the plans that we have for the next 89-88 races.

“We've got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us. And we put the best driver in next to Esteban [Ocon], so that we can move forward towards what we've been planning.”

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Speaking before Piastri’s social media statement, Szafnauer also insisted the team could work with the youngster should he ultimately be confirmed in the seat, despite the potential damage done to the relationship by his attempt to move to McLaren.

He compared the situation to that at BAR when Jenson Button appeared to be going to Williams for 2005, but ultimately remained with the Brackley team following a legal battle.

“I've been around long enough where I've seen this kind of thing actually play out and happen,” he said.

“When Jenson signed with Williams and ended up at British American Racing Honda, if you remember those days, there was absolutely no issue. I mean, I know Oscar is different from Jenson. Hopefully we don't have to go down that route, anyway.

Podium: Second place Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren; Race winner Fernando Alonso, Renault and third place Jenson Button, BAR

Podium: Second place Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren; Race winner Fernando Alonso, Renault and third place Jenson Button, BAR

Photo by: Sutton Images

“But your presumption was, oh, a driver wants to go somewhere else. So hopefully that's not the case. But I have seen it where a driver actually signed with another team incorrectly, so had to drive for the team that he initially signed with.

“And it was absolutely no issue. Jenson at the time did a stellar job at BAR, and never ended up at Williams.”

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