Why Alpine still feels burned by Piastri despite its own mistakes

Alpine found itself unwillingly at the centre of this year’s Formula 1 driver market silly season after the double whammy of losing Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri for 2023.

Why Alpine still feels burned by Piastri despite its own mistakes

The remarkable series of events that resulted in Alonso jumping ship to Aston Martin and it eventually losing Piastri to McLaren after a Contract Recognition Board ruling, means it is now remains on the hunt for a second driver for next season.

But beyond the practicalities of it being back to square one in its quest for a team-mate for Esteban Ocon for 2023, there is lingering disappointment about how events turned out – and especially how one camp behaved.

Speaking for the first time since the driver bombshells of the summer, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi is forthright in his opinion about the motivations of the key players in what happened.

From the Alonso perspective, Rossi accepts that his decision to go for a big money deal at Aston Martin – which guaranteed him the long-term timeframe he craved – was fully understandable.

“He wanted more than two years,” explained Rossi, expanding on the events from the Alpine motorhome at the Monza paddock.

“I don't think it was a total showstopper, but it was something he wanted. We couldn't offer it.

“I think we were still in agreement, and then I want to believe that he got an offer that he cannot refuse and that we cannot match. And so F1 has that silly season.

“I'm hoping he made a silly move sports wise, because that means we’re still ahead of Aston Martin, but I can't blame him for taking a better offer if it's the case.

“Fernando is a great champion, he’s a legend of our sport and a legend of our brand. He’s still delivering, a great professional, so no bad feelings. That's life. So we move on. So that's Fernando that closes his case.”

Oscar Piastri, Alpine Academy

Oscar Piastri, Alpine Academy

Photo by: Alpine

Piastri disappointment

While understanding Alonso’s choice as clear business, Rossi’s tone changes when it comes to talking about what happened with Piastri.

For while he admits that mistakes were made in not locking down Piastri to a water-tight contract that could have prevented him swooping for a McLaren offer, he cannot hide his annoyance at what he feels was a lack of simply loyalty for all the team had done for the Australian.

Having originally set out the much talked about Heads of Terms with Piastri for the reserve driver role last 15 November, Rossi says Alpine did everything that was promised.

It sorted out plans for an extensive 5000km test programme for him (he had completed 3700km before the summer), it gave him a role in the sim and at race weekends, and it would help find him an F1 race seat for 2023 and 2024.

That ultimately manifested itself in an offer to learn the ropes with Williams for up to two years, before being recalled to the Alpine works team by 2025 at the latest.

Many drivers would have jumped at such support and opportunity, but for Piastri an apprenticeship at Williams was cited in the CRB ruling as the reason he turned his back and went the McLaren route.

Rossi accepts that Alpine could have done more on the legal front to ensure Piastri was locked down so could not switch camps, but he still thinks at some point the loyalty factor should have played a role.

“With Oscar, it's very disappointing because we've been extremely committed and we've been extremely loyal,” said Rossi.

“We made technical mistakes, legal technical mistakes, which basically left the door ajar. But we never thought – and it was a bit of oversight for sure – that we had to worry about us.

“When you provide so much to a driver, it's almost tradition that you get back in return the driving of that driver for you.

George Russell spent three years at Williams, a good school if any, to learn the ropes and then go back to the mothership. Charles Leclerc did the same a year [at Sauber] before going back to Ferrari. Verstappen did the same, Seb Vettel did the same. The list is long.

“It's normal to go back to the team that invested so much in you, especially us.

“I think it's not pushing too far to say that we've been extremely disappointed because we were expecting him to stay true to our investment and our work.

“So while we made mistakes, we feel like we stand for values. That didn't happen for him. Obviously he leveraged the opportunity to shop around and get very likely a better deal.

“But I guess things happen for a reason. We don't share necessarily the same values. So perhaps it's better to part ways now.”

Oscar Piastri, Alpine A521

Oscar Piastri, Alpine A521

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Excuses, excuses

While the recent CRB ruling suggested Piastri only elected to go down the McLaren route because of delays Alpine had in giving him a contract, Rossi thinks that the court painted a different picture of what was going on behind the scenes.

For rather than it being Alpine guilty of not moving forward with the contract, he suggests that Piastri’s camp was continuously stalling in signing off paperwork.

Asked by Autosport about the CRB statement of Alpine ‘shilly shallying’ with its delays in delivering a contract, and why the team didn’t just give him what he wanted, Rossi claims Alpine was constantly being frustrated by excuses from the other camp to delay things.

“They achieved what they wanted you to do, which is to focus on the wrong things,” he said.

“When you deliver everything that was delivered, which is basically the big pillars of our collaboration, do you really care if the minutiae of how many days of marketing [you do] or when it rains, which sweater are you going to wear? Do you really think this is what why the deal didn't materialise?

“We put contracts in front of him many times. He never signed it. So you cannot say that he never had it. He had the contracts. He just didn't sign it. So it's a catch-22. You can always say the contract never came, but you had it.”

He added: “The reserve [deal] was announced, the training was started and performed. He was paid as a reserve. The other part was to find him a seat [racing for 2023].

“As soon as we found him a seat, we had a contract. We were like: ‘this is going to trump everything else. We don't need anything else. You're going to have your contract. This is it. Let's go.’

“When you start then pointing at other things to distract people, and use the ‘I didn't feel the love...’

“Sorry, but I gave you way more love than any other team give to their proteges. And I'm talking about visible love, not patting the back. It's the kind of love that every driver would love to receive.

“When you do all of that, you cannot talk about no love. And then when you start saying ‘oh, whatever form was not sent at the right moment’ – I’m sorry, that's an excuse. You’re either with me or not.”

Looking back at things now, Rossi thinks that Alpine lost Piastri for one simple reason: McLaren had a bigger money offer on the table and that was the key motivating factor behind all that happened.

“Let's assume for a second, we will have put our contract clean out of the legal technicalities that they used as a loophole, and the McLaren one in front of him. Which one do you think he would have taken?

“There's no question of milestones, deadlines. It's a question of he obviously wanted to go to McLaren. And so I surmise that he got a better offer, and I don't think it's a sporting one because it's a very similar proposition.

“And I would even contend ours is better, because we are a works team and he's been trained, he knows everyone in the team.”

He added: “I hear and read a lot of questions about who's at fault and what happened. It’s simple.

“Someone shopped around, got a better deal, and decided to take it. So don't beat around the bush and try and find convenient excuses for why this happened. We know what happened.”

Laurent Rossi, CEO, Alpine F1, in the team principals Press Conference

Laurent Rossi, CEO, Alpine F1, in the team principals Press Conference

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The end of young driver programmes?

While Alpine has paid a short-term price in terms of its own driver choices, it feels there are wider consequences for the entire F1 paddock triggered by events.

For Rossi suggests that the very future of young driver programmes could be at stake – with it now being a clear tactic for rivals to grab youngsters once they have been fully trained up.

That possibility will ultimately force teams to put young drivers under super strict contracts, which could be harmful for their careers as well.

“It says a lot when Toto [Wolff] himself says we're going to look into our contracts very differently,” added Rossi. “We'll do as well, obviously. We were the ones who got the burn for everyone else.

“The problem it creates is that it makes the market too fluid a place that endangers the stakeholders that invest into it.

“If you decide that you're going to save money every year, by not investing in drivers, and then you just poach them with that money you saved, it's a different proposition.

“I'm not sure therefore I want to continue training those drivers, or I'm going have to lock them in with a contract that might not be appealing to them. So how do you solve that?”

From Alpine’s perspective, Rossi has hinted that one of the longer-term implications is the end of the Alpine young driver academy – something which would not be positive for F1’s health in the long term.

“We're really wondering whether or not beyond the current batch of drivers that we have, and with whom we're going to honour until the end our obligations - we have-multi year plans with them - we wonder if we're going to take new drivers, because why would we?” he said.

“At the same time, this is part of our history. This is history of motorsport. It's made from stakeholders, mostly manufacturers, creating driver programmes.

“So do we want to change that? Is that too dangerous? Is that creating a precedent?

“It's also a value that we have. We believe in drawing young talents in a set of values that are ours, so that when they reach their peak, they already fit very well with us, they click with us, they have the mindset that we like, the values that we like.

“It’s a difficult one: we feel like we're a bit vindicated by the fact that most of the people in the paddock feel the same way. And this is not good for the sport.

“Beyond our little scratch here at Alpine, I think the sport itself gets scratched a bit.”

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