Silly Season in Formula One is always a game of musical chairs, but this season it’s been particularly interesting. ATRL’s Natasha Warcholak-Switzer reviews the state of the F1 driver market now.
August 20, 2022
After four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel announced his upcoming retirement from Formula One, everyone from fellow drivers and former teammates to avid fans spoke out to voice their support and wish the German well on his next endeavor.
He cited several reasons for the decision, but most of all seemed to be his desire to focus on his life off track. In a statement made on July 28, Vettel was candid about the difficulties of balancing the full focus required to win championships and “be one with the car and the team” and his desire to focus on his family and other interests he’s developed over his years as a driver.
“My goals have shifted from winning races and fighting for championships to seeing my children grow, passing on my values, helping them up when they fall, listening to them when they need me, not having to say goodbye, and most importantly, being able to learn from them and let them inspire me,” Vettel said.
It’s fair to say Vettel has done much to inspire F1 faithful, leaving the sport as one of the most successful drivers in its history – with 53 career race wins, he’s in good company with Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher as one of the top three drivers of all time.
But for the drivers that are contracted or seeking a drive in 2023, this summer got a whole lot more interesting. Vettel’s announcement was the first domino to fall in what promises to be a chaotic summer break for the sport. While the month provides the drivers and teams with a much-needed break from the track, it’s rarely a slow time for news in the driver market – contracts are being signed, negotiated, and sometimes terminated. This leads to a lot of almost-announcements, misplaced assumptions, and general chatter about who will land where.
It’s a time of excitement for fans because they can see the next season coming into view, but this uncertainty can push people to make opinions or assumptions without complete information or push out announcements due to outside pressure to have an answer.
Enter Alpine. With Fernando Alonso leaving to replace Vettel at Aston Martin, the open seat at Alpine was seemingly a perfect fit for Oscar Piastri, F2 Champion and the team’s current reserve driver. With excitement and likely a sigh of relief, Alpine set its lineup for the coming year with the release. As much as it made sense and was celebrated widely on social media, it was apparently not set in stone.
In what became a pretty ugly exchange on social media, Piastri disputed the announcement and simply stated that he “would not be driving for Alpine in 2023”. This immediately struck onlookers with the feeling that even absent an announcement; he was finalizing a contract with another team on the grid. Per ESPN, there are talks that he could be replacing Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren. Since Ricciardo is still contracted with McLaren through the end of next season, he would have to opt out of that contract for Piastri to join their ranks – so far, there’s no official word that that’s going to happen.
If it is confirmed, however, it would explain Piastri’s response but makes this whole situation and the precedent it sets no less uncomfortable. While reporting from F1.com states that Alpine made the announcement because they “believe they have a contract with Piastri,” the notion that Alpine made the decision without a quote from the driver himself – and possibly without even speaking to him directly – raises some questions about why the team made the choice to rush the announcement and what outside pressures they may have been dealing with.
Alonso’s surprise departure no doubt left the team scrambling, but the fast-paced environment of news on social media could share some of the blame. It’s not unusual for major news outlets and brands to put out an initial statement on a developing situation and update later with more information as it becomes available. Alpine may have been operating under the assumption that they’d put out the good news, add in a quote later, and be done with it. And if Piastri was planning on staying with the Enstone-based team, this news would already be at the bottom of our feeds. But since he’s likely in talks with another team on the grid and could not, in fact, confirm his place at Alpine next year, his response spread far and wide, becoming a trending topic not just for F1 fans but in sporting in general.
The feud may only grow in the coming weeks and months – ESPN and other outlets have reported that either side may pursue a legal battle if deemed necessary. After losing a two-time world champion and now a reserve driver who they’ve heavily invested in, Alpine must now figure out a path forward – pursuing their four-year partner in Piastri, despite their (very open door) contract discussion, or look at possibilities with Ricciardo and the rest of the grid.
With the constant pressure to keep social channels up to date and the uncertainty that comes with every silly season, this likely won’t be the last time something like this happens. We may have more answers once the teams get to Belgium, but outside of what seems like an unfortunate miscommunication, hopefully, this moment can start a broader discussion on social media issues like online harassment of drivers and fans, which continue to persist.
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