Szafnauer on the settlement of the F1 legal battle for Piastri’s services: “A decision made for me”

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The biggest Formula 1 drama of 2022 away from the track had definitely been Oscar Piastri’s move from Alpine to McLaren. At the time, the young Australian rookie was a reserve driver for the French team, with his manager Mark Webber hard at work to find a ride for the 2021 Formula 2 champion.

By the time Piastri had signed with the papaya team, however, Sebastian Vettel’s retirement shocked the world, and especially the F1 grid as Fernando Alonso was signed to replace the four-time World Champion by Aston Martin.

Alpine announced their intention of having Piastri partner up with Esteban Ocon in Alonso’s place for 2023, but almost immediately the Australian driver issued a statement on social media denying this.

Ultimately the quarrel turned into a legal matter, solved by the FIA Contract Recognition Board that ruled in favour of the driver.

Alpine’s Team Principal at the time, Otmar Szafnauer, recently returned on the topic in an interview with Peter Windsor, highlighting the fact that in his opinion the team should have done more to try and retain the young driver, and the different outcome that the issue might have had with another tribunal:

“Yeah, we definitely performed the contract. There was a CRB test that landed on the side of Oscar and McLaren, but that’s not the only test. Had we tested the contract in the English courts, because it was governed by English law, the outcome could have been much different than the CRB.

“Like you say, we performed [the contract], Oscar didn’t. From a CRB perspective, there was an ‘out’. But from an English law perspective, it could have been different.

“But the decision was made to not continue the fight and just let it be as it is. And that’s okay, that was a decision that I didn’t make. That was a decision that was made for me. I wish Oscar well.”

The Board had ruled that Alpine was to cover all legal fees for McLaren, as well as interest costs for the CRB itself.

Photo Credit: McLaren Racing

Mark Webber also disclosed his driver’s opinion on the move, and especially on the departure of the previous McLaren driver, Daniel Ricciardo.

The 2021 Italian GP winner had an extremely underwhelming season in 2022, with only 37 points to his name. Set to take an off year from Formula 1 as third driver for championship winners Red Bull, Ricciardo ended up as replacement for Nyck De Vries at AlphaTauri mid-season, ultimately securing a seat for 2024 as well.

In the former Formula 1 driver’s words, the younger Aussie wasn’t too keen on the idea of basically kicking out a fellow countryman from the sport.

“It’s clear that Daniel had two very tough seasons as a McLaren driver, If Oscar hadn’t replaced him this year, another driver would have done it. He said at the time that he was taking the seat from another Australian and there aren’t many of us who have raced in Formula 1.

“But what can you say, it was McLaren’s decision and in the end, it’s clear that it was the right one,” he summed up. It definitely was the right call for McLaren. Piastri’s rookie season featured a sprint Race win, two Grand Prix podiums and 97 points, finishing ninth in the drivers’s standings.

Szafnauer, who parted ways with the French team after the 2023 Belgian GP, acknowledged his good level of performance in his maiden season, but he also mentioned how far ahead teammate Lando Norris tended to be in races. He expects next year to be the big test of where Piastri is at with a year of experience under his belt.

“He performed well against Lando. I think next year or the year after will be more telling. You’ve got to give Oscar the year of getting used to the team, the circuits with the car that’s underneath him, and then we’ll see. I think Lando is exceptional, and you can see that in the comparison.”

“Although everyone says Oscar did a good job, because he did, I think Lando was still quite a way ahead. Not all races, but in total points and some of the head-to-head comparisons.

“But you know, one of the reasons is because Oscar was a rookie. Next year he’ll have that experience a rookie doesn’t have. We’ll see how much closer it is,” he concluded.