Teams training drivers in more competitive clothing towards the back of the net is common in F1. Mercedes’ George Russell cut his teeth in Formula 1 with Williams, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc got his first representatives with Alfa Romeo.
But behind the scenes and long before the Alonso/Aston alliance, Webber’s plans for Pastry were quietly taking shape – and while Ricciardo’s second season at McLaren was down a similarly miserable path to his first. Alonso’s bomb brought them to the surface.
Webber pounces while Ricardo fights
Ricciardo, in the second year of a three-season deal with McLaren, who had the third-year option – crucially, on his side – had another tough campaign as the 2022 season turned to Monaco. That weekend in May, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown suggested there should be break clauses in Ricciardo’s contract, adding “there are mechanisms where we stick to each other, and mechanisms where we are not.”
Public questioning about Ricciardo’s tenure heightened tensions, with McLaren responding by repeating that they were eager to help Ricciardo rediscover Mojo. But talk of Ricciardo’s future never went away, and after an eighth-place result at the Austrian Grand Prix in July, Ricciardo made a rare appearance on social media to quell rumors that his barren run would see him slip away at the end of the season, for nothing. Subtly pointing out that – and not McLaren – he had an option on his 2023 contract. The timing was no accident.
Days ago in Austria, Sky Sports F1 correspondent Ted Kravitz suggested why the arrangement for Piastri’s loan to Williams had stopped.
“Could it be that the delay is that (Biastri) and his manager Mark Webber are looking into the possibility of replacing Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren,” Kravitz assumed?
“With every race that goes by and points and performance fail to get to Ricciardo, maybe McLaren will come up with a late bid for Pastrie, knock him out of Williams’ sights and offer him Ricciardo’s seat for 2023.”
Fast forward this week, the announcement of Vettel’s retirement in Budapest and Alonso’s surprise move to Aston Martin opened the door in Alpine Pastry to compete with the team he has joined this season. Alpine issued a press release the day after Alonso’s defection announcing the Piastri as racing driver for next season – but without quotes attributed to Piastri. The red flags were the most red.
Hours later, Biastri tweeted, “I won’t be driving to the Alps next year,” a striking refusal of a race seat for a novice driver.
With so few vacant seats available on other teams for next season, it was clear Webber already had Piastri installed elsewhere, with Alonso’s plans having small consequences.
Later in the week, it emerged that McLaren had officially told Ricciardo after Hungary that it was no longer their preferred option for 2023. The Australian has no intention of agreeing to a proposed move to McLaren-owned teams in IndyCar or Formula E, wanting to extend his F1 career. to the twelfth season.
With reports from Europe all but confirming Biastri’s rise to a seat with McLaren, the team – along with Camps Biastri and Ricciardo – have been silent. Simply put, McLaren will need to pay Ricciardo money to make way for Pestre, with discussions about the details of a financial settlement that would put a handbrake on any official announcement.
So what happens now?
Alpine has indicated it will do everything in its power to get Piastri to honor a contract it says is watertight and contains options for 2023 and 2024, and is seeking settlement of the dispute by F1’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB). However, Europe-based news agency RacingNews365 reports that CRB has already ratified Piastri’s McLaren contract, allowing him to stand up to the deal that Alpine believed it had.
What’s less clear is what will happen to Ricciardo’s future when Piastre is, as is now expected, announced at McLaren ahead of the season’s resumption in Belgium at the end of August. It remains unclear whether Ricciardo finished the 2022 season with the team under such awkward circumstances, while Piastre’s deal with McLaren – which didn’t start until 2023 – prevents him from being an option for the year’s 10 remaining races.
The twists and turns of this tale don’t stop there either. With Alonso elsewhere and a no-novice Piasteri, the Alps may open their arms for the return of Ricciardo in a marriage of convenience.
While the bright spots were few for Ricciardo at McLaren, he has won the team’s only race since 2012 when he knocked out last year’s Italian Grand Prix. Despite his fall in form, Ricciardo remains one of F1’s most marketable drivers, particularly in the US.
Legacy and future
If Ricciardo renews ties with Alpine, next season will be the first since 2013 – Webber’s last campaign in the sport – that in Australia there are two drivers on the F1 grid. That these two drivers had a link to the then and now retired Vettel is another strange sub-plot.
After two seasons driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso, he succeeded Ricciardo Webber at Red Bull Racing in 2014 following Webber’s retirement. The older Australian spent five seasons as Vettel’s teammate, and Vettel won four consecutive titles and 34 races to seven Libres from 2010-13.
Statistically, the careers of Weber and Ricardo make up an interesting comparison. Webber has started 215 Grand Prix races and won nine times, achieved 42 podiums and finished third in the World Championship three times. Ricciardo (eight wins from 223 starting with 32 podium finishes) built his career from opportunistic wins with a mechanism unable to tilt the real title.
The events of the past week ensure that when Piastri starts – given how he earned his spot on the grid – the junior season will be watched like no other driver has ever before.
News, results and expert analysis from the Sports Weekend are sent every Monday. Subscribe to the sports newsletter.