By: Ben Jose
The reigning Formula 2 champion, Oscar Piastri, found himself seatless at the pinnacle of motorsport in Formula 1 for the 2022 season. The generational talent signed on to the Renault Sports Academy in 2020 after winning the Formula 3 championship and continued to represent the team in the 2021 Formula 2 championship after it rebranded as the Alpine Academy. After graduating from Formula 2, the seatless Piastri signed on with the Alpine team to be their reserve driver for 2022.
Piastri’s need to be in Formula 1 was taken up as a serious concern by the Alpine team which gave him significant time in the 2021 car and also widely used him for testing and simulation work. In the driver’s preparation for the 2023 season, the team announced Piastri would drive the 2022 car during a free practice session. The team further allowed Piastri to be a reserve driver for the Mclaren F1 team as a sign of good faith between the teams. Despite the efforts to prepare the driver for the 2023 season, there seemed to be no available seat for the 21-year-old. Williams Racing F1 team had potentially opened up a seat for Oscar after their current driver, Nicholas Latifi, was on an expiring contract. This would not be an ideal situation as the team is a significant back runner and could be seen as wasted potential during a young driver’s prime years.
Alpine team principal, Otmar Szafnauer, was hoping to see their current driver line-up stick for the 2023 season by renewing a potential one-year contract with their senior driver, Fernando Alonso, signing their other driver, Esteban Ocon, on a long-term contract, and loaning out Piastri to another team. Szafnauer did not specify which team this loan would apply to, but with only 10 teams present on the grid, the Williams seat was the only likely option for Piastri, without any guarantees. However, Fernando Alonso was not interested in a 1-year contract with Alpine for the 2023 season and decided to make a shock move to the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 team without informing the Alpine team. This opened up a seat for Piastri to join the team for the 2023 season, removing the need for a loan. This move would be a no-brainer from both parties’ perspectives. Alpine proceeded to announce the promotion of Oscar Piastri to a full-time driver with Alpine. Oscar, however, instantly shut down the announcement and stated that he would not be driving for Alpine.
Piastri’s refusal to drive for Alpine has sent shockwaves around the F1 Paddock. ESPN’s sources state that the reason for this move was due to his pre-contract with the Mclaren F1 team, a direct rival for the 2023 season. Team principal, Otmar Szafnauer, believes that because the driver is under contract with Alpine, he cannot drive for another team and must leave himself available to drive for the Alpine team for the 2023 season. Szafnauer further stated that Piastri’s failure to respect their current contract could cause the parties to meet at the London High Court. It is impossible to conclude whether Piastri failed to respect the current contract or Alpine is over reaching with what they expect from their driver without analysing the contract in question which is not publicly available. This move, however, greatly questions the impact of junior academy teams in Formula 1.
Formula 1 is one of the most expensive sports for a young driver to join. Therefore, junior driver academies have greatly supported young drivers in reaching Formula 1 through monetary benefits and other various resources. This in turn creates an obligation on drivers to drive for their respective academies in Formula 1 contractually and in a sense of loyalty. Alpine’s hard work to bring Piastri to Formula 1 and provide him the necessary tools to drive in the 2023 season cannot go understated, and Otmar’s disappointment with the situation is clearly visible. With the present facts and lack of response from Piastri’s camp, there does not seem to be any valid reason for this sudden refusal; however, internal issues that are not public knowledge could be enough motivation for Piastri to leave.
Nonetheless, Alpine’s reasoning behind Piastri being obligated to drive for the team due to his reserve driver position could be problematic. If a team believes that a reserve driver can be seen as a regular full-time driver and promoted at any time, then the reverse is also applicable. A driver could be demoted at any time to become a reserve driver. Furthermore, the most important aspect of the Formula 1 drivers’ market is the freedom for any driver to talk to other teams and confirm a seat for future years. Forcing young drivers to sign long term deals and then prevent them from talking to other teams while not providing a seat of their own leaves the drivers in limbo. Obtaining a seat in Formula 1 in itself is an almost impossible task for new drivers, so further preventing them from seeking out seats and wasting prime years by academy teams is unjust.
The FIA, the governing body of Formula 1, should likely step in and create better rules to regulate relationships between junior academy teams and young drivers. With numerous junior drivers in Formula 2 and Formula 3 under contract with various junior academy teams, it is essential to ensure that scenarios like Piastri’s does not occur again. Helping out drivers is positive, yet holding them back from attaining their potential for self-gains by teams should be prevented. Critically, drivers also need to be more transparent with their current teams about future transfers. Allowing the transfer market to be completely free has led to serious problems and potential monetary damages. The FIA cannot allow teams and drivers to create situations like Piastri’s which can devalue and delegitimize the sport in the eyes of the rest of the world.
 Phillip Horton, Piastri Rejects Alpine’s Offer for F1 Seat in 2023, Autoweek (Aug. 2, 2022), https://www.autoweek.com/racing/formula-1/a40786047/piastri-rejects-alpines-offer-for-f1-seat-in-2023/.
 See id.; Renault to Rebrand as Alpine F1 Team in 2021, formula1.com, https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.renault-alpine-f1-team-2021.7eY84dCU9MythQjcYG8T45.html (last visited Aug. 26, 2022).
 See id.
 See Alan Baldwin, Piastri Will Get Practice Slot with Alpine After August Break, REUTERS (July 2, 2022,
5:20 AM), https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/piastri-will-get-practice-slot-with-alpine-after-august-break-2022-07-02/.
 See Michael Lamonato, Truth Behind ‘Odd’ F1 Proposal for Rising Aussie Star Oscar Piastri, FOX SPORTS (Mar. 15, 2022, 2:34 PM), https://www.foxsports.com.au/motorsport/formula-one/piastris-new-mclaren-connection-doesnt-change-aussies-uncertain-future-at-alpine-kravitz/news-story/8fae7a63793b90065bb3f5c069fa5d84.
 See Is This The Reason Why Piastri Has Still Not Signed with Williams?,GPBLOG (July16, 2022, 8:32 AM), https://www.gpblog.com/en/news/116237/is-this-the-reason-why-piastri-has-still-not-signed-with-williams.html.
 See Fernando Alonso ‘Integrity’ Questioned by Alpine Boss Otmar Szafnauer – Oscar Piastri Exit ‘Not Final Yet’,CRASH (Aug. 8, 2022), https://www.crash.net/f1/news/1009804/1/alpine-boss-alonso-i-keep-my-word-not-everyone-does-things-same [hereinafter Alonso and Piastri Exit]; Horton, supra note 1.
 See id.
 See id.
 Dan Cancian, Oscar Piastri Sent SHOCKWAVES Through F1 with His Bold Alpine Snub But He Has EVERY Reason to Back Himself… The Australian Has Already Emulated Hamilton and with Webber in His Corner, The Young Gun Is Set to Make a Splash at Mclaren, Daily Mail UK (Aug. 5 2022, 5:16 AM), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/formulaone/article-11080543/Oscar-Piastri-F1s-big-thing-did-young-Australian-hot-property.html.
 Nate Saunders, Oscar Piastri Rejects Alpine, Eyes Future with McLaren,ESPN (Aug. 2, 2022), https://www.espn.in/f1/story/_/id/34334724/oscar-piastri-rejects-alpine-eyes-future-mclaren.
 See Alonso and Piastri Exit, supra note 8.
 Alan Baldwin, Piastri Case Could End Up In High Court, Says Alpine Boss,REUTERS (Aug. 8, 2022, 11:36 AM), https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/piastri-case-could-end-up-high-court-says-alpine-boss-2022-08-08/.
 See An Expensive Exercise: F1 Runs The Risk of Fewer Talents Joining Its Ranks, wheels 24 (Jan. 15, 2020), https://www.news24.com/wheels/FormulaOne/an-expensive-exercise-f1-runs-the-risk-of-fewer-talents-joining-its-ranks-20200115.
 Craig Draycott, What It’s Really Like to Be In an F1 Team’s Driver Academy, formula1.com (Jan. 23, 2022), https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.long-read-what-its-really-like-to-be-in-an-f1-teams-driver-academy.4NQUqXjYVkDl9G300LnOpi.html.
 See Luke Smith, Horner: Ricciardo Not The Same F1 Driver He Was with Red Bull, motorsport.com (Aug. 26, 2022, 12:56 PM), https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/horner-ricciardo-not-the-same-f1-driver-he-was-with-red-bull/10358458/#:~:text=Christian%20Horner%20does%20not%20see,confidence%20has%20been%20%E2%80%9Csapped%E2%80%9D (‘“I think if Renault and Alpine have invested into his junior career, it’s because you invest in youth because you’re investing in it for the future, and there has to be an element of loyalty within that,’ [Christian] Horner said”).
 See Horton, supra note 1.
 See Alonso and Piastri Exit, supra note 8.
 See Smith, supra note 19.
 See Stefan Kristensen, F1 Silly Season Explained, motorsportexplained.com (Aug. 7, 2022), https://motorsportexplained.com/f1-silly-season-explained/.
 See id.; Can F1 Drivers Move Teams Mid Season?, FLOW RACERS, https://flowracers.com/blog/f1-driver-switch-teams-mid-season/ (last visited Aug. 26, 2022) (“A team can decide whether they want to release a driver at any time, leaving an air of uncertainty looming over any underperformers on the grid.”).