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Formula 1

Alpine hints at Piastri’s 2022 F1 role without race seat

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Formula 2 championship leader Oscar Piastri is influencing Alpine’s plans for its 2022 reserve driver and Friday practice role, as he is set to miss out on a Formula 1 seat.

Piastri is the form driver in F2 and leads the standings by 19 points after scoring his third pole position in a row at Sochi on Friday.

If he goes on to win the championship, in his rookie season no less, he will have won three titles in three seasons: Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula 3 and Formula 2.

However, Piastri is not considered a frontrunner to land the only vacant seat on the 2022 grid at Alfa Romeo. His fellow Alpine protege and F2 title rival Guanyu Zhou is a leading candidate as is current Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi.

That means Alpine must create an alternative plan for Piastri and it appears he is heading for a reserve driver role with Friday practice outings on grand prix weekends.

Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski hinted at that on Friday at the Russian Grand Prix when answering questions about Piastri, who he said is ‘influencing’ Alpine’s plans, and also F1’s plan to enforce mandatory FP1 running for young drivers next year.

Motor Racing Fia Formula 2 Championship Saturday Baku, Azerbaijan

Budkowski said that who Alpine picks for the Friday running “depends what we do effectively next year with our young drivers and especially with the reserve driver role” – which is currently held by ex-Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat.

F1 has not yet established the exact criteria drivers must satisfy to be eligible for the FP1 running but Budkowski said it would make sense for that driver to also be Alpine’s reserve.

“Should we put one of our young drivers – academy drivers – that are currently competing in F2 as a reserve driver, then that’s the best way to actually prepare your reserve driver to step in,” Budkowski said.

“It’s likely to be the same one but it doesn’t have to be.”

And asked by The Race if Piastri is the lead candidate to fulfil the reserve driver and FP1 driver role next year if he does win F2 and doesn’t step up to F1, Budkowski replied: “I’m not going to give any information on what our plans for next year are, partly because they are still in the making.

“Definitely Oscar’s been extremely impressive. He is potentially on course to win his third championship in three years. He has won F3, he won the Renault Eurocup in the previous years so what a streak already.

Motor Racing Fia Formula 2 Championship Sunday Baku, Azerbaijan

“Even if he doesn’t win it, it’s a pretty strong three years for a young driver.

“There’s very few that have managed that in the past, so does that impress us, at Alpine? Of course it does. Will he win the championship? We’ll know that soon.

“But certainly it does have an influence on the plans we are making for next year for the reserve driver’s seat and for the year output of the academy in general.”

Alpine would not necessarily have to part with Kvyat if it opted to give Piastri a fully embedded role with the team as they could share reserve duties, with other teams also having access to more than one substitute driver.

But there would be limited testing opportunities so it depends on how serious Alpine is about giving Piastri as much F1 preparation as possible.

Kvyat recently completed some 18-inch tyre testing for Alpine at Magny-Cours in the wet and has been described as a “great addition” to the team.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Practice Day Sochi, Russia

“At the moment he’s very much our reserve driver and certainly until the end of the year, and the options for next year are open,” said Budkowski.

“We are discussing internally what’s the next step and we have quite a few young academy drivers coming up and ready for F1, so we are evaluating seriously for the role of reserve driver but that’s all I can say at this stage.”

For Piastri to get an F1 race seat next year he needs Alfa Romeo to make its decision on who will partner Valtteri Bottas purely on performance.

Zhou is second to Piastri in the championship standings despite being in his third year in F2.

The advantage Zhou has is the funding from China he is often speculated to bring to a potential F1 team.

Zhou and Piastri offer Alpine the best chance of one of its academy drivers finally making it to F1, with the route complicated by Alpine (formerly Renault) not having a partner team to try to place one of its junior drivers at.

Motor Racing Fia Formula 2 Championship Saturday Sakhir, Bahrain

Budkowski described it as a “great problem” to have academy drivers ready for F1 at the same time when asked by The Race about the speculation around Zhou, whether Alpine would retain a link to him in some way if he did get the Alfa drive, and how Alpine plans to hold on to drivers it cannot give race seats to.

He indicated that Alpine will happily release its proteges if they have an F1 opportunity elsewhere.

“On Zhou, there are rumours flying around, and I am not going to comment on rumours here, or on driver contracts,” said Budkowski.

“We are evaluating options for our academy drivers but the success of an academy is also measured through its output.

“We are running this academy because we want to generate Formula 1 drivers, Formula 1 drivers for Alpine, and the academy as such is only successful if it does generate Formula 1 drivers, so we can’t stand in the way of our drivers who are mature for F1 and ready to take that challenge because that would be negative for their careers and for them as individuals and also it would reflect badly on our academy.

“These are the parameters we need to take into account when assessing our plans for next year.”

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