Sebastian Vettel to retire from F1 at end of season
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The fiasco around Alpine’s driver situation for next season took another twist after team principal Otmar Szafnauer dubbed Oscar Piastri’s contract “watertight.” The Formula 1 outfit were embarrassed after announcing Piastri as the replacement for Aston Martin-bound Fernando Alonso, only for the Australian to reject the notion a contract has been signed.
Piastri, 21, joined Renault’s Sport Academy at the beginning of 2020 and was promoted to become the team’s reserve driver in F1 this year following their rebrand to Alpine. Shortly after Alpine’s announcement on Tuesday, the youngster called the confirmation “wrong” and said he has “not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
But Szafnauer views the matter differently and appeared confident that Piastri is legally bound to drive under their banner following Alonso’s departure. The Romanian-American engineer spoke in the wake of rumours suggesting the prospect and manager Mark Webber had pledged his loyalty to McLaren.
“I am not aware of any agreements he would have made with McLaren, if any,” the Alpine chief told Motorsport.com. “I hear the same rumors as you in the pit lane. What I know is that he has a contractual obligation to us. And we to him too.
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“We meet these obligations throughout the year. Those obligations will continue into 2023, and possibly until 2024 if some options are exercised. We had to make him reserve driver this year and let him drive last year’s car for a significant number of hours.
“We are already well over halfway through that 5,000-kilometre program in preparation for a race seat next year. Also VT1s and simulation work is performed by both parties. He fulfills his obligations, so do we. So we have a watertight contract with him for 2023 and with an option for 2024. So I don’t know what he has agreed with McLaren.”
Piastri has claimed back-to-back championships in the past few years, winning the Formula 3 title before bagging the Formula 2 crown at his first attempt. He won seven of 19 races to claim the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019, which began a serial streak of success in motorsport’s minor leagues.
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That rise has made Piastri in-demand, with Williams understood to also be in the race for his services. But Szafnauer went on to say Alpine have “invested significantly” in the up-and-comer, not just in a fiscal sense, but an emotional one, too.
“We are preparing him for hopefully a successful F1 career,” added the 57-year-old. “Not every team does that for a rider from their own training. We have decided to do that for him and get him ready. We do that with the idea that he will race here for us in the future. We wouldn’t have done that if we knew he was going to move to one of our competitors.”
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