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Formula 1

Wolff fears Piastri case has set bad precedent for F1

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff is concerned that the Oscar Piastri case has set a precedent that “if you’re clever you can manoeuvre yourself out” of a young driver programme.

Piastri will leave Alpine to join McLaren in 2023 after a ruling by F1’s Contract Recognition Board this week.

Alpine thought it had Piastri locked down for next season but it has been determined that Piastri was a free agent because Alpine badly mishandled his contractual situation.

The result is McLaren was able to sign a driver Alpine has spent significant time and money developing over the past two and a half years, with that investment including around 3500km of testing in Alpine F1 cars.

Alpine has criticised Piastri for abandoning the organisation when it honoured its commitments and had a desire to promote him to the works team eventually, and last week Wolff hinted he was not impressed that Piastri had publicly stood against his current employer.

Oscar Piastri Alpine F1

Now Wolff has admitted that while he has no insight into the specifics of the Piastri/Alpine saga, he is worried that F1’s big teams will have to be more careful with how they manage young drivers in the future.

“What I really stand firm for is that all of us constructors are investing a lot of money in our junior programmes,” said Wolff.

“We invest human resources that go to the go-kart tracks, to the junior formulas, and in some cases, it’s little money, some cases it’s more.

“George Russell and Esteban Ocon, we financed them a long way on. To know now that a precedent has been set that if you’re clever you can manoeuvre yourself out is something that’s clearly not good for the industry.

George Russell Toto Wolff Mercedes F1

“So, we will be employing even more lawyers for even stricter contracts.

“But for me, I believe in the integrity also of the drivers we have.

“I think we need to be positive, to try and find talent and develop them. But hope on the character.”

Wolff was speaking after qualifying at the Dutch Grand Prix. Earlier in the day, McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl had spoken out against comments from external observers critical of the Piastri situation.

He even argued at the time that there was no broader issue of junior programmes and all this should do is make such programmes be more careful with the contracts they have.

Seidl said McLaren had such an example of their own a few years ago when Red Bull was interested in poaching Lando Norris but could not because his contract was solid.

“Oscar was a free agent, that’s why we signed him,” said Seidl.

Andreas Seidl McLaren F1

“And I don’t think that has any impact on any of the junior programmes that are around.

“It probably needs more of a review of which contracts are in place when you have junior programmes.

“For example, when I look on our side, Lando was obviously a very hot topic some years ago, when there was some interest from other teams as well.

“But in the end he just couldn’t leave because we had everything in place we needed in order to make sure he has to stay with us.

“In general, I’m a bit surprised about many of the comments that have been made from people that didn’t have the insight on what actually happened because if I just think about myself, in cases like that, if I only have a briefing from one of the parties involved, I will be very careful in making comments.

“I’ve seen now that some of you journalists sitting in here, despite the confidentiality of the verdict, actually have the verdict.

“I would just recommend to everyone to read it through in detail and then I guess we have a clearer picture of what actually happened.

“And I think that speaks for itself.”

The specifics of the case do suggest that there was more at play than just Alpine leaving a loophole for Piastri to exploit.

Alpine dragged out the process of turning a terms sheet – signed in November last year – into an actual contract for 2022 and beyond.

The team had to create a makeshift reserve driver agreement on the eve of the season but it took until May for Piastri to receive a full contract proposal for 2023-2026.

That deal also did not guarantee him an Alpine drive until 2025 at the earliest and intended to place Piastri at the back-of-the-grid Williams team for potentially two seasons.

This, combined with the drawn-out process, contributed to Piastri and his management seeking a move to McLaren instead as they felt the trust in Alpine had been eroded and McLaren was willing to offer Piastri a quicker route into a competitive seat.

Laurent Rossi Alpine F1 Oscar Piastri Mark Webber

Asked by The Race if the details of the Piastri-Alpine case indicated this was a specific failure from one team not to have a driver under contract, rather than an indication of a wider threat to driver programmes, Wolff said: “Contracts are the underlying fundamentals of any professional commercial dealings with each other, that’s clear.

“But… in this world, you will probably be able to spot the gaps, or opportunities, in every contract. And then it’s up to the judges to determine what the outcome is.

“I think I’ve made many mistakes in my life where I thought the contract covers all angles, and it didn’t.

“Then it comes down to the human and to the kind of long-term perspective one has on the relationships.

“Again, very difficult to judge from the outside. There’s always two parts of the story.

“But the boy better be quick.”

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