The real story behind Oscar Piastri’s F1 move to McLaren

Although ultimately it was a matter for the F1 Contract Recognition Board and cost Alpine almost £540,000 in legal fees, it also included the situation which sometimes escalated into personal insults.

Piastri has been accused of lacking “integrity” by Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer for turning his back on the team that has helped guide his career at his fledgling Drivers’ Academy since 2020.

Piastri was also criticized by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, who made pointed remarks about “integrity” and “karma”.

On the other side of the table, McLaren has faced backlash on social media for the way it reached a deal with Piastri for 2023 when it still had Daniel Ricciardo under firm contract.

But with the dust now settled on the case, and both sides having had to present the CRB with their truth about what happened, a clearer picture of what really happened has emerged and the situation is very different. what some had assumed.

Motorsport.com spoke to several insiders who are familiar with the proceedings and the developments, and the reality is that rather than the Piastri case is a case of a ruthless young driver and his management team betraying a team, it was more about them feeling let down and instead concluding that they have no choice but to look elsewhere or risk getting nothing.

And from McLaren’s perspective, he was only guilty of seeking the most competitive driver lineup possible when a once-in-a-generation opportunity fell into his hands.

The arguments of the CRB

Oscar Piastri, Alpine A521

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The case between Alpine and the CRB is said to have centered on whether a ‘Term Sheet’ agreement – vaguely outlining Alpine’s plans for Piastri between 2020 and 2023 – which was filed with the Council for the Recognition of contracts should have been treated as a definitive contract.

This document was originally sent to Piastri and manager Mark Webber on November 15, 2021 in correspondence detailing the team’s response to taking an option they had.

At the time (and agreed in later emails), Alpine and Piastri/Webber were clear that the best way to progress from that term sheet was to sort out two separate contracts: one to be booked in 2022 and another as an F1 racing driver for 2023/2024.

In a letter that Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi sent on that date, he promised that a suitable F1 agreement would be sent to him shortly – “with a view to executing it no later than 10 working days after receipt of this one”.

However, no such deal has been agreed for F1 – either for the reserve deal or a racing contract – and it is understood that Webber and the Piastri camp have grown increasingly frustrated with the delays.

In correspondence between Webber and Alpine’s legal team over the following weeks, it became increasingly clear that things were not going as fast as the former F1 driver would have liked.

This was first blamed on system “bottlenecks” caused by a lack of resources, then other delays as the team prepared for the launch of their new car.

Amid preparations for the A522 reveal at the end of February, the team promised things would be sorted out.

Webber duly asked if the contract could be settled by March 1 so that Piastri’s side could have time to assess him before signing ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix season opener.

On March 2, Webber was promised the contract would be with him later that day.

Two days later, however, Webber received a “draft reserve driver agreement”, with a note that details of an F1 deal for 2023/2024 would follow as early as the following week.

This latter deal did not go through, as it was first explained that there had been delays caused by the organization of a shared reserve driver role with McLaren which had been agreed with Alpine.

As the F1 season approaches and Alpine is required by the Concorde agreement to apply for a superlicence with the CRB should Piastri be allowed to race on the track, it has been proposed that the reserve driver arrangement be set up to sort out the superlicense.

Then a separate F1 racing driver deal for 2023 and 2024 could follow at a later date.

Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastri, Alpine

Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastri, Alpine

Picture by: Alpine

As the reserve driver agreement was not signed by either the driver or the team at that time, Alpine duly sent to the CRB on March 14 a document containing the November 2021 condition sheet signed by both parties. .

The team had added a label at the top stating that these were ‘legally binding terms and conditions’, even though what was supposed to be a contract enclosed in a separate sealed envelope (which would only be used in a dispute CRB) was not signed and did not contain these words.

That term sheet was also titled “Subject to contract” and outlined the “likely” plan for Piastri to be a reserve driver for a year ahead of a potential race seat in 2023.

The filings only specifically referenced the 2022 reserve driver role and made no mention of extensions or expansion options.

A day later, Alpine finally sent Webber and Piastri its draft F1 deal, but without anything specific in terms of teams for 2023 and beyond.

It only happened on May 19, when Piastri received an offer to sign a four-year contract from 2023 to 2026. But crucially, it wasn’t exclusively about racing for Alpine, where his hopes had been pinned.

The schedule set for him was to race for Williams in 2023.

Then, pending of course Alpine’s original plans for Fernando Alonso, in 2024 Piastri would stay at Williams for a second season or return to Alpine if the Spaniard left F1.

For 2025, it was decided that Piastri would have a firm two-year contract to race at Alpine until the end of 2026.

It was this offer – which gave Piastri no hope of a short-term future at Alpine – that would have been the final straw that made him decide not to sign and move on.

Instead, Webber and Piastri agreed the best way forward was to look elsewhere – informal talks having already begun with McLaren by this stage.

Sources revealed that the CRB decision noted that: “Alpine had been hesitant about an F1 driver contract for Mr Piastri for the previous eight months and here they were now offering a four-year contract starting with an agreement two-year loan with Williams.”

Talks with McLaren progressed and, with the team apparently telling Daniel Ricciardo as early as May that they were considering other options for 2023, a preliminary agreement between the Woking-based team and Piastri was signed on June 4. .

It is understood this was originally to be in an unspecified role for 2023, just in case Ricciardo stayed on, but obviously with the intention of Piastri stepping in should a split occur.

With McLaren and Piastri convinced there was no right to his services elsewhere, based on the fact that Alpine only had this “subject to contract” term sheet filed with the CRB, and the talks with Ricciardo accelerating to move in the clear direction of a parting of the ways, Piastri’s final racing contract was signed on 4 July – subject to there being a vacancy for him.

Ricciardo’s subsequent post on Instagram on July 13 about his full commitment to McLaren for 2023 should therefore be viewed more as a negotiating tactic.

This would have been intended to strengthen his hand when it came to the terms of a severance, rather than being hard evidence of him ignoring what McLaren was doing in the background: even though he may not have been not specifically aware of the timings of the deals put in place with Piastri.

With the 2023 McLaren contract in place, Piastri kept his head down as the team began to finalize the terms of its split with Ricciardo – which it wanted to complete before announcing its future driver plans.

However, the matter was dragged into the public domain when Alpine lost Alonso to Aston Martin at the start of the summer break and then announced Piastri for 2023 – prompting the youngster to post the infamous tweet that he doesn’t would not run for it and triggering the eventual CRB hearing.

The final decision

Oscar Piastri, Alpine A521

Oscar Piastri, Alpine A521

Photo by: Jerry André / Motorsport Images

In the end, the CRB’s decision was unanimous. The condition sheet being labeled “subject to contract” meant it was far from valid and, as nothing else had been filed by Alpine, the obvious conclusion was that McLaren were the only team with a real contract for 2023 and beyond.

Interestingly, as the final act of conflict between Alpine and Piastri, the team argued to the CRB that the Aussie should swallow his own legal costs of over £120,000 as they felt he was not party to the proceedings.

The CRB rejected this, saying he had every right to be represented. Another complaint from Alpine about the “excessive” cost of McLaren’s legal representatives was also dismissed.

Move on

For Alpine, beyond the loss of Piastri and the full legal costs of all parties that it must bear, there will be important lessons to be learned in the future about the way it treats its drivers. and their contracts.

It should be noted that Szafnauer only joined the team at the beginning of March, at which time the situation turned sour: and it was perhaps not a priority for him to focus on the documents already filed with the CRB.

Pushed on Alpine’s response to events, Szafnauer told Zandvoort: “It all happened in November last year, so I guess it’s easy to blame people who aren’t there anymore, but its not my style.

“The right thing to do is to look at what happened, understand where the shortcomings were and fix them for the future.”

While there doesn’t appear to be any debate about the legalities of the Piastri case, it’s understood that for Szafnauer there remains an uncomfortable feeling regarding the morals of how things unfolded.

On the McLaren side, although delighted to have won one of the brightest emerging talents we have seen in years, there is still a sense of unease about how Piastri has been unfairly painted in some quarters. over the past few weeks when he couldn’t say anything in public to defend him.

As team leader Andreas Seidl told Zandvoort: “I think I was a bit surprised by some of the comments I read also from people who had no detailed knowledge of this what was really happening.

“I think some of those comments were therefore also inappropriate, not fair and just did not respect what was happening.

“If I look at myself in such a situation, if I only know what’s happening on one side, I try to refrain from commenting on that. And I think it’s also important to mention to protect Oscar.

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The real story behind Oscar Piastri’s F1 move to McLaren

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