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Formula 1

Why Alpine failing is Piastri’s best shot at F1

by Edd Straw
4 min read

For Oscar Piastri, 2022 is all about using his year on the sidelines as a reserve driver as a platform to land a Formula 1 race seat next year.

That puts him in a curious position where his chances of graduation in 2023 could hinge on his current team, Alpine, having a bad year.

This doesn’t mean Piastri won’t do everything he can to make an impression with his on and off-track work this year to contribute to Alpine’s season. But there’s no doubt he will be aware of the perverse situation that his only way into Alpine’s line-up next year is if one of its existing drivers is out of the way.

Jan 24 : F1 2023 driver market explained

Esteban Ocon is already under contract to the end of 2024, so his place at Alpine is rock solid for next year. Fernando Alonso is not locked in, but if Alpine delivers the goods on track it’s almost certain he will stay on to make the most of its improving form. But if not, the chances of him still being there next year drop dramatically, making that Piastri’s best opportunity.

If there’s no room at Alpine, Piastri will likely be in demand elsewhere and there’s enough potential volatility in the driver market – with as many as 11 seats hypothetically available – to find a way in.

But Alpine is the line of least resistance for him to get onto the F1 grid – provided one of the drivers blocking his path is gone given how difficult it is today with so little track time for a young driver to wow a team with testing and practice performances.

By rights, Piastri should be on the F1 grid this year. He’s won three key championships in consecutive years – the now-defunct Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula 3 then Formula 2 – meaning the 20-year-old has ticked every possible box.

Unfortunately, ‘by rights’ doesn’t mean anything in F1, where opportunities are always limited by circumstances far beyond the control of the driver. The Alpine Academy scheme is a curious one, with Guanyu Zhou’s place on the grid nothing to do with its influence despite having been on its books since the start of 2019. That means Piastri can’t rely on it to force a place for him elsewhere.

Unlike Mercedes, which eased the path into F1 for Ocon and George Russell, and Red Bull, which has helped more drivers than any other organisation since the days when tobacco money from companies like Marlboro flooded the grid, Alpine hasn’t been a golden ticket for any of its juniors.

But Piastri does at least have plenty to do this year. He will log significant simulator mileage, which will have a clear impact on the race team’s activities, and will turn out in FP1 at least twice this year. He already had a day in the 2021 car in last year’s post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test and is firmly embedded in the team.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia last year, Alpine executive director Marcin Budowski – who has since left his role – promised that “we’ll develop Oscar a lot, beyond just taking him to races as our third driver”. But he made no comment on any particular strategy to get him onto the grid.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Abu Dhabi, Uae

For Piastri, it’s not just about impressing Alpine. He can also ensure he’s the driver most likely to break into F1 in 2023 by doing what he can on track to continue to build on his stellar reputation.

Meanwhile, you can be sure manager Mark Webber will be working hard behind the scenes to force an opening. It will take a little time for the 2023 driver market to take shape before there’s any chance of finding a drive, but a shrewd operator like Webber will continue to lay the groundwork.

Inevitably, the prospects are perhaps best in the lower reaches of the grid. Five of the six drivers at least year’s bottom three teams – Williams, Alfa Romeo and Haas – aren’t guaranteed to be there next year so there are opportunities there. And if one of the bigger teams would like to take a highly-rated rookie, then Piastri will definitely be on the list.

A year on the sidelines isn’t ideal for Piastri, but given the career momentum that he’s built up over the years he can afford it. But what’s key is that he finds a way onto the grid in 2023.

It’s a ruthless business, so if Alpine does struggle and a door opens as a result, then Piastri will be happy to stride through it. And Alpine itself won’t have to think too hard about how to fill any vacancy.

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