Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi has lashed Aussie F1 rookie Oscar Piastri over his defection to McLaren, claiming “there is no excuse for his behaviour”.
Speaking about Piastri’s dramatic exit in an interview with Auto Motor und Sport, Rossi claimed the team had planned to loan Piastri to Williams and then bring him back to replace Fernando Alonso.
But the team’s plans were thwarted in dramatic fashion when Alonso signed with Aston Martin for next season and Piastri did a dealwith McLaren despite being part of Alpine’s junior academy since 2020.
Piastri will replace Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren and the rookie revealed veteran Ricciardo reached out in a classy move to let him know there was no bad blood.
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However things clearly remain frosty between Alpine and Piastri with Rossi slamming the Australian for his lack of loyalty.
“He would have driven for us after Alonso left,” Rossi said. “McLaren and us are about the same strength. But we are a factory team. That’s a competitive advantage.
“He grew up in this team. He knows everyone with us. We’ve shown our commitment to him – shouldn’t he be a little grateful?
“Oscar would do well to be fast and deliver results next year. But even if he becomes the new Michael Schumacher, this story will stick with him forever.
“There is no excuse for Oscar’s behaviour. He has chopped off the hand that fed him and played with us because any draft contracts were not submitted on time.
“If he says he didn’t feel full affection from us, then I wonder why we offered him all the opportunities to become as complete a Formula 1 driver as possible?
“These were not empty words, but actions. If he claims that the contract situation was too obscure for him, then I say: He knew that we had the Williams contract in the bag.
“There was nothing murky about it. He just used this excuse to look elsewhere.”
Rossi believes it would have been ideal for Piastri to start his F1 career with a team like Williams but said he wasn’t willing to do so.
“He was disappointed that we bet on Alonso and not on him straight away,” Rossi said. “And he didn’t want to drive for Williams.
“We told him he should be happy with what he’s getting. Fernando will definitely be racing at a much higher level than a rookie next year.
“Maybe Oscar would have got there at some point, but certainly not right away. This applies to 95 per cent of all drivers in the field.
“As for Williams, George Russell raced there for three years and it didn’t do him any harm. Has he ever complained? Now that he’s driving for Mercedes, it’s clear that this training couldn’t have been that bad.
“After all, Russell immediately drives on par with Hamilton, a seven-time World Champion. Leclerc, Verstappen and Vettel also learned from a junior team beforehand.”
BINOTTO DEFENDS SAINZ FROM SECOND-DRIVER ACCUSATIONS
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says his team doesn’t have a number one and a number two driver after Ferrari president John Elkann appeared to single out Charles Leclerc as the Scuderia’s leader.
In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport Elkann said he was sure the team was on the right track to win the title in the next four seasons and that it would be Leclerc who would lead it there.
“I believe that before 2026 Ferrari will once again win the constructors and drivers titles, with Charles Leclerc in pole position,” he said.
The commentary forced a response from Binotto, who said he rated both drivers equally and that Elkann’s comments were only a reflection of Leclerc’s upper hand so far this season.
“No, doesn‘t mean that,” he said when asked if his team had reinstituted a driver hierarchy.
“I think that what our chairman said if you look at the current season, Charles on average has been faster than Carlos and has been most often on pole position, but the ambition of the two drivers, the final ambition is to win, for both of them, the championship.”
Binotto pointed out that Sainz had finished 5.5 points ahead of Leclerc in their first year as teammates last season, albeit with the Monegasque failing to finish two races.
“I think Carlos is a strong racer,” he said. “He has proved it last year, in the past seasons and is still proving this season that he’s a good racer.
“He is scoring a lot of points on Sunday, he’s a good learner and he’s fast as well, so I think it‘s fair as a team to give them equal chance, certainly at the start of the season and through the season.
“If necessity will be there, we may designate who‘s got the most opportunity to win.”
Sainz is currently fifth in the drivers standings and 32 points behind second-placed Leclerc.
F1 DOUBLES NUMBER OF SPRINT RACES IN 2023
Formula 1 has finally received the approval of the FIA to increase to six the number of sprint races on the 2023 calendar.
The sport published a record-breaking 24-race calendar for the 2023 season last week despite F1 and the governing body being at loggerheads for months over the plan to double the current three sprint races for next season.
The FIA, which has final say over F1’s rules and calendar, had reportedly used the issue as a bargaining chip to extract a greater share of the sport’s profits. President Mohammed Ben Sulayem denied the claim, and the BBC has reported Formula 1 bosses have refused to up the royalty rate.
The governing body currently receives a tiny fraction of F1’s multibillion-dollar profits under the barely changed 100-year agreement it struck with Bernie Ecclestone 20 years ago.
But in an announcement on Wednesday, the FIA confirmed it would finally agree to the increased number of Saturday races as part of the sport’s continued evolution.
“[This] is another example of the continued growth and prosperity at the highest level of motorsport,” Ben Sulayem said.
“Sprint sessions provide an exciting dynamic to the race weekend format and have proven to be popular over the past two seasons. I am sure that this positive trend will continue.”
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, no longer referring to the sprint as a trial, said the feedback on the format change of the last two seasons has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The sprint provides action across three days, with the drivers all fighting for something right from the start on Friday through to the main event on Sunday, adding more drama and excitement to the weekend.
“The feedback from the fans, teams, promoters, and partners has been very positive, and the format is adding a new dimension to Formula 1, and we all want to ensure its success in the future.”
Domenicali said earlier this month that he had bigger plans for format changes beyond more sprint races, including reverse grids and points awarded during practice.
Formula 1 said it would decide which six races would be run to the sprint format “in due course”.
ALPINE BOSS ‘PROUD’ OF SZAFNAUER DESPITE CONTRACT DEBACLE
Alpine boss Laurent Rossi says hiring team principal Otmar Szafnauer is the decision he’s “most proud” of making despite both Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri abandoning the ship in the last two months.
The French team suffered an embarrassing end to the first half of the season, with Alonso blindsiding Enstone with a sudden move to Aston Martin and then Piastri revealing he was set to move to McLaren in a deal Szafnauer says was done behind his back.
Alpine is still evaluating drivers to take Alonso’s place alongside Esteban Ocon next season.
However, the off-track chaos has come against a backdrop of strong on-track gains. This year’s car has been a marked improvement on last season’s model, and the team is currently fourth in the constructors standings, which would be its best finish since 2018.
The step forward follows a restructuring that began at the end of 2020 with the dismissal of former boss Cyril Abiteboul and culminated in Szafnauer’s signature, and Rossi said those events couldn’t be separated from the team’s improved competitiveness.
“I believe they‘re working,” Rossi said, according to Autosport. “On track we deliver, which is the most important [thing] in the sport.
“Otmar is … one of the hires I‘m most proud of. He’s delivering every day since he arrived and is the boss.
“Otmar and I work the same way. I simply am connected to him and I know everything that‘s going on.
“Otmar is the boss. I trust him fully, and he is doing an excellent job. So it gives me that peace of mind and I trust he is going to continue growing the team.”
Szafnauer’s responsibility in the driver debacle is debatable. Though Szafnauer’s insistence the 41-year-old Alonso be given only a one-year deal on account of his age appears to have been a major sticking point for the Spaniard, Piastri’s contractual dispute stems from decisions made before he took the reins.
JEAN TODT SAYS F1 FANS SHOULD FOCUS ON FERRARI POSITIVES
Former Ferrari boss and ex-FIA president Jean Todt says people are too critical of Ferrari’s mistakes this year when they should be recognising how far forward the Italian team has come since last season.
Ferrari endured one of the worst seasons in its history in 2020, when it finished sixth, and rebounded to third last season before taking its first victory in almost three years at the opening race of 2022.
But what looked like the beginnings of a championship campaign went quickly off the rails through a combination of strategic mistakes, unreliability and driver error. Max Verstappen can beat Charles Leclerc to the championship as soon as this weekend, and Red Bull Racing will likely be able to close the deal over Ferrari from the following round.
Speaking to Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport, Todt said Ferrari’s year-on-year progress was more important to celebrate this year regardless of the increasingly clear title outcome.
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“Ferrari is doing very well now. It seems to me that people are not fully aware of this. Ferrari is back to winning,” he said.
“I think almost everyone would like to see Ferrari win championships, not just a few races. We can hope so for next year, because this year I don’t think it’s possible anymore.”
But Todt, who oversaw seven constructors titles and six drivers titles as the head of Ferrari, added that turning a team from regular winner into title contender required a raised level of performance compared to what the Scuderia has so far been able to serve up this year.
“But to win you need excellence at all levels,” he said. “It is difficult to reach it and even more difficult to maintain it.
“It starts with excellence in detail, from the one who answers the phone in the company. If a company does not answer the phone after 10 rings, that is not a good company.”
“You cannot make two identical mistakes. If that happens, it means that something needs to change.”
SCHUMACHER TO FOCUS ON MAGNUSSEN IN BATTLE FOR HAAS SEAT
Haas has had to stop Mick Schumacher from becoming too preoccupied by beating teammate Kevin Magnussen in the crucial final year of his contract with the team.
Schumacher has scored points just twice this season, and though he’s become a more consistent operator in recent months, he still trails Kevin Magnussen in the standings.
Magnussen’s shock return to Formula 1 has proved a boon for Haas, for which the Dane has scored 22 points, but his arrival has shaded Schumacher in his second year. and having a more experienced teammate has sometimes proved distracting to the 23-year-old.
“Sometimes Mick focuses too much on his teammate,” Haas chief race engineer Ayao Komatsu told Motorsport Total. “Then I say to him, ‘Look, Kevin really likes to help you and he tells you things he would never have told Romain [Grosjean, former Haas teammate] before’.
“Then Mick thinks and realises the most important thing for the team is to get up in the constructors championship.
“I explain it to him, ‘Mick, come on, you’re doing well, focus on your own performance and not on this thing’. And then it’s fine again.”
But Komatsu said Magnussen’s presence has had a net positive effect by lifting Schumacher’s performances to the next level — so much so that he thinks the German probably would’ve scored his maiden points last year had he not had only the erratic Nikita Mazepin to compare himself with.
“It’s very good for Mick to have an established teammate like Kevin,” Komatsu said. “We didn’t know beforehand how good he was. Then Kevin came along and that gave us a reference.
“We think that with our 2021 car we would have been safe against Williams [to avoid last in the standings]. We could have fought if we’d had Kevin back then. Mick would have benefited from that in his development.”
Schumacher is out of contract for 2023. Haas boss Guenther Steiner says he expects to decide on his driver line-up in October.
F1 DOESN’T NEED AMERICAN DRIVER AS FIA CLOSES DOOR ON HERTA
McLaren boss Zak Brown says Formula 1’s ongoing success in the United States isn’t tied to having a successful team or driver in the sport, after the FIA formally rejected Colton Herta’s bid for a superlicence.
Herta has been a driver of interest for AlphaTauri as a potential replacement for Pierre Gasly but doesn’t have the required CV to earn him a superlicence. Red Bull was hoping to convince the FIA to grand him an exemption, but the governing body confirmed over the weekend that it wouldn’t be bending the rules for the IndyCar star.
“The FIA confirms that an inquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA superlicence,” it said in a statement.
“The FIA continuously reviews its regulations and procedures, including with respect to superlicence eligibility, with the main factors being considered with respect to this topic being safety, experience and performance in the context of the pathway.”
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AlphaTauri has since turned its attention to Nyck de Vries, who’s being sought after by Alpine and Williams for 2023.
Red Bull had been open about the commercial appeal of fielding an American driver as the sport attempts to lock in recent gains in the US market.
But Brown, one of the sport’s most prominent Americans, said that Formula 1 could be successful in the United States in the long term without trying to play up to the market.
“I think it would be great for both of them to happen; it would further enhance Formula 1 here,” Brown said, per Autosport.
“But we don’t have either today, and look how popular Formula 1 is now in America.
“So I’d love to see it happen, but I don’t think it has to happen, because Formula 1 is hot today without it.”
Williams is considering promoting American F2 academy driver Logan Sargeant should it miss the chance to sign De Vries.