Alpine boss reveals Piastri disappointment
By Mat Coch
Sunday 11th September, 2022 - 3:17am
Oscar Piastri’s decision to leave Alpine in favour of McLaren for the 2023 Formula 1 season caught Laurent Rossi by surprise and left him disappointed.
The Alpine CEO has offered his insight into the story which dominated the summer break.
Following Fernando Alonso’s decision to join Aston Martin for next season, Piastri was announced as his replacement a day later.
That prompted an awkward reaction online from the Australian rejecting the drive and triggered a lengthy and public standoff.
The matter was resolved via the Contract Recognition Board in favour of McLaren a little more than a week ago with a unanimous decision in the Woking squad’s favour.
“Oscar was not expected,” Rossi said in an extensive interview with the sport’s official website.
“Frankly, it’s disappointing.”
The Piastri saga has been an especially painful one for Alpine which has lost not only Alonso and now the 21-year-old Melburnian, but it has also been lumped with more than AUD 900,000 in legal costs by the CRB. And it still doesn’t have a replacement driver.
A key component in Piastri’s disillusionment with Alpine is the future he was offered; a placement with Williams before being brought back into the factory team in a year or two.
“We did deliver on our commitment to Oscar very quickly, as we exercised our option on November 15, agreeing on Head of Terms which said he would be reserve,” Rossi said.
“He would receive an extensive training programme, among other things 5,000km of driving through the year, and we’re going to find him a driving seat for ‘23 and ’24.
“We did just that,” he added.
“We announced him as a reserve the day after.
“We very quickly devised a training programme and a 5,000km testing programme, which started in February alongside Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon – that’s a serious training programme.”
According to Rossi, Alpine employed a person specifically to secure Piastri a Formula 1 drive for 2023, ending up with an agreement with Williams by the end of April.
“When the Williams opportunity was about to turn into a concrete deal, so much so that the seat fitting was scheduled, they [Piastri’s management] said ‘we have a possible opportunity at McLaren,’” Rossi claimed.
“It was a bit disappointing. We felt it was a bit strange because we expected a bit more loyalty considering how much we put in there. He didn’t say he was going to go, he said he had an opportunity.
“Then we saw in July, the sixth I think, that [Daniel] Ricciardo was confirming for the year after.
“So we thought there is interest, but there might not even be a seat. There was perhaps an opportunity [at McLaren, but] the door is closing, so Oscar is still in play for us.
“It explains why we decided to promote him – he was reserve and we elevated in the same framework to race driver.
“We never knew for a fact he had signed. He never told us,” Rossi added.
“We still believed the Williams seat was a great one, a great opportunity to learn with a bit less pressure – a very good team to learn in, very seasoned, capable of growing talents like George [Russell].
“But we could understand he was attracted by the prospect of a better challenge sporting-wise.
“We felt when we had the chance to offer him a better seat, I would contend, with us because we are a works team, we felt like we would offer it to him and he would expect it as there was no better option – Ricciardo was staying.
“We acted very logically, in line with our commitment to him. From our perspective, it’s a very linear, simple story. We have been so committed. I don’t think we could have given more to any driver, to be honest.”
Alpine has come under intense criticism for its handling of the situation, and for the fact it allowed Piastri the freedom to leave so easily.
It’s a point Rossi both concedes and argues.
“He never signed any contracts we put to him,” Rossi argued.
“We put contracts forward many times. They were never signed. We could not retain him because he didn’t sign a contract with us. We were expecting more loyalty.
“We made some mistakes, we made some legal technical mistakes,” he admitted.
“We left the door ajar by not forcing him in with a contract that is so tight he couldn’t move.
“Why did we do that? It’s a bit of an oversight because we never thought that when you give so much to someone, when you give them training, a reserve role, a seat in a partner team, he will not take it after being supported for so many years and winning the championship through your support.”
Rossi maintains a season with Williams, away from the spotlight, would have benefitted Piastri in the long run.
“I’m a bit surprised that Oscar thought that first, he was better than Williams,” the Alpine boss opined.
“I can understand from a sporting perspective McLaren might be more interesting based on pure on-track results than Williams, but we didn’t expect that after so much support, so much loyalty, they would use that back door to shop around and get what felt like a better contract for them.
“Those are not the values we exhibited.
“This is how I see the story. Of course, we made mistakes, otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about the topic, but we feel we stayed very true to our commitment, to our values and to our words to Oscar.
“But I would say things happen for a reason. We’re not sharing the same conceptions of things, and perhaps not sharing the same values, so it’s perhaps better this way, to be parting ways.”