One of the hottest topics in Formula 1 over the past few days has been the future of Oscar Piastri, with the Alpine reserve driver linked with a potential move to Williams. F1 correspondent Lawrence Barretto assesses the situation.
Alpine is in trouble. They have three drivers they rate very highly but only two racing seats for 2023. Esteban Ocon is on a long-term contract which runs until at least the end of 2024. Fernando Alonso’s contract expires at the end of the year, but there is a desire on both sides to continue, so impressive has the double world champion been, and so much has he enjoyed life since returning to Formula 1 after a two-year hiatus.
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And that means Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri, the reigning Formula 2 champion who is highly rated by the French manufacturer and others in the F1 paddock, faces the prospect of a second year on the sidelines and losing the momentum he had built up winning. the title in Formula Renault Eurocup, in F3 then in F2 successively.
Alpine doesn’t want to risk that happening and has therefore been actively talking to other teams on the grid in the hope that they can find him a seat for next year, with the idea that when Alonso chooses to to call it a day, they can remember Piastri, who will then have F1 experience under his belt and be on top of the race.
One such team they contacted is Williams. As it stands, Williams has two free seats for 2023, although the reality is that Alex Albon will be with the team next year, and probably in the medium to long term if he continues to deliver, if strong were his performances this year.
The other seat, however, is up for grabs, with Nicholas Latifi’s three-year contract ending this year. The Canadian really struggled to master what is believed to be a very difficult car to get. He was also hurt by the fact that his team-mate Albon came in and exceeded expectations, scoring points twice with a car that really isn’t capable of doing so in terms of pure performance.
Latifi’s struggles, combined with Piastri’s availability, have led to speculation the Australian will jump mid-season, as early as the British Grand Prix, but I understand that’s not the plan. . For now, the focus is on upgrading and pacing Latifi this year.
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That’s not to say Williams isn’t already thinking about changing its driver line-up for next year – and admittedly Piastri is high on the list. An Albon-Piastri formation would be exciting – and a real statement of intent.
But they don’t have to take it – and they’re in no rush to decide. If they do hire him, it should be on their terms – a multi-year contract or potentially a one-year contract with an option from Williams’ side to retain him. Williams will want to avoid being a stopgap and accepting a mere one-year contract, only to lose it to Alpine the following year.
I understand that any agreement would be a driver-only arrangement. Williams has a long-term and successful partnership with Mercedes, taking over their engines and gearbox. There is no desire to end this and switch to Renault versions of these components.
They will also consider keeping Latifi if he turns things around. He is a popular member of the team and has shown flashes of speed. The British team is planning a major update, which could help the Canadian feel more comfortable behind the wheel and unlock the car’s potential. But he will have to step up his efforts and do it quickly and steadily if he wants to stay.
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Longer term, Williams has options from within, with team principal Jost Capito keen to channel the young talent they work with through their Driver Academy. Should American Logan Sargeant win F2 this year or next, he would be a real contender for a racing seat as Williams seeks to build its brand in the United States. They also have Briton Zak O’Sullivan in F3, who could be in the frame for a seat in three or four years.
While they are struggling at the moment, their owners Dorilton Capital are supporting them financially, allowing the team to operate at the budget cap, and once they are on top of the new generation of cars they will be a proposition. very attractive. They no longer need to hire paid drivers, nor hire drivers on less favorable terms.
Piastri is their main competitor – but if they get together, it will be on their terms.