Arrival of Pierre Gasly boosts Alpine in the wake of Piastri affair
Alpine’s driver woes have not made for great reading particularly if, like me, you have soft spot for the French brand which Renault boss Luca de Meo has positioned at the forefront of the Group’s sporting ambitions. However the arrival of Pierre Gasly in the team's line up gives Otmar Szafnauer's team fresh impetus ahead of 2023.
Only those most intimately involved in the Oscar Piastri saga know the precise detail, though we heard enough via the Contract Recognition Board decision to know that Alpine had failed to get their man because of the small matter of not having a binding contract in place.
While Alpine’s CEO Laurent Rossi has cried foul, accusing Piastri camp of disloyalty, the contract debacle has acted as a brutal reminder of F1’s business environment. To coin a phrase, if you no longer go for a gap which exists in the contract you are no longer a racing driver’s manager. It’s even easier if there isn’t a binding contract in the first place.
Mark and Ann Webber, owners of Piastri’s management company Jam Sports Management, have been around the block, understand the game and how fickle it can be. Mark Webber knows both Fernando Alonso and Flavio Briatore rather well, so there was no surprise at the speed with which the network set to work, a calculated game of contractual musical chairs triggered by Sebastian Vettel’s decision to retire several years after he started thinking about it.
Faced with the prospect of his man being parked at Williams, a team which, at the time of writing, lies last in the World Championship with a car featuring an average qualifying deficit of 2.169s across the first 16 races, Webber knew the opportunity to slide Piastri into McLaren in ’23 was golden. Jam today, so to speak.
Much has been made of the fact that Alpine has held onto 4th place in the World Championship, a performance made possible by both drivers delivering a points haul of 66-59. Over at McLaren they’ve had one racing driver and a troubled team mate. The score, after Italy, was 88-19 to Norris.
Simply put, McLaren really need a second Norris. Piastri ticks the box.
All this wrong-footed Alpine despite the presence of Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and the team’s chief legal counsel Benedicte Mercer. Both are highly experienced and well regarded. They know the importance of binding contracts which made the revelations by the CRB all the more surprising.
Behind the delays, prevarication and inability to get the contract done, the unravelling of Piastri’s future plans at Alpine caused enormous frustration within its leadership. However, the management now enters 2023 with a more simplified structure.
Rossi knows the marketing power of F1 and regards the arrival of Szafnauer as a key appointment, one which leaves him to concentrate on the formidable task of launching Alpine’s new models and growing the business globally.
To make the breakthrough it needs, Alpine has a mountain to climb. A level of stability, focus and ambition which unlocks the potential within Team Enstone, and a pair of drivers able to race with the best. In recovering quickly from the Piastri affair and signing Pierre Gasly, in many ways Alpine has turned a negative into a positive, creating an all-French line up and ensuring Esteban Ocon has both a quick and highly experienced team mate beside him. Both men have won Grands Prix, an important factor for a team eager to climb onto the podium once again.
Based on an article by Mark Gallagher originally published by GP Racing Magazine