Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer has said he “would not be surprised” if major F1 figures are sharing information behind closed doors as the Oscar Piastri fiasco continues to bubble away.
While the news of Piastri’s mooted move to McLaren to replace countryman Daniel Ricciardo has not been officially announced by the team, Szafnauer has spoken on the issue.
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The issue came to a head when two-time world champion Fernando Alonso sensationally revealed he was leaving Alpine for Aston Martin, leaving a free seat to which the French outfit announced Piastri would be taking.
It was also revealed Alonso did not tell Alpine bosses of his decision to defect before it was made public.
But Piastri threw a spanner in the works, revealed he would “not be driving for Alpine next year” via a social media statement.
It quickly snowballed into reports Piastri was signed with McLaren who were willing to pay out Ricciardo’s seat, which will cost the team a reported $21 million.
The one snag appears to be whether Piastri had a valid contract at Alpine.
French publication Auto Hebdo reported this week the F1’s Contract Recognition Board found both Piastri’s Alpine and McLaren contracts are valid.
It has left Alpine threatening to file a civil lawsuit to recoup the millions of dollars in training it has spent on Piastri this season.
“Going to the High Court is over 90 per cent certain that’s what we’ll do,” Szafnauer told Reuters.
“If the CRB (Contract Recognition Board) says ‘Your licence is only valid at Alpine’, and then he (Piastri) says ‘That’s great, but I’m never driving for them, I’ll just sit out a year’, then you’ve got to go to the High Court for compensation.”
But the Alpine boss has also hinted at potential collusion between Piastri’s manager Mark Webber, Alonso and his manager Flavio Briatore.
Webber and Alonso are close friends after their time in F1, while Briatore, who was a former team boss at Bennetton and Renault, has been Alonso’s long-term manager.
“Look, I have no record of it, but this is Formula 1 and maybe in a couple of years someone says that they have evidence of shared information, I would not be surprised,” Szafnauer said.
“I always tell everyone that in Formula 1 you have to act as if everyone knows everything. That there are no secrets in these things. When you ask someone not to say anything, they act like everyone knows.
“That’s how I’ve run my business in Formula 1 for 25 years. And if this (information sharing) has happened, you should not be surprised.”
The Piastri drama has been getting fairly heated as Alpine still want the Aussie in their car, but Szafnauer has questioned the youngster’s integrity.
Szafnauer may not be the only one who smells something fishy either.
Former F1 driver turned pundit Christian Danner said Piastri’s tactics “clearly has the handwriting” of Briatore.
Briatore was forced out of the sport in disgrace after the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, when Nelson Piquet Jr. alleged he had been ordered to deliberately crash to help Alonso, who was his teammate at the time. Alonso went on to win the race.
Briatore was banned from the sport indefinitely for a short time but it was overturned.
The 72-year-old continues to manage Alonso.
“It’s classic Flavio. There was certainly a contract for Piastri that Flavio has skimmed over … there was definitely a clause,” Danner told German publication Motorsport Magazin.
“When he believes in someone, he has the foresight to plan in a positive sense – and not just ruthlessly, which is logically the case in this business.
“I could imagine Piastri being able to free himself from Alpine’s grip, so that he can hopefully drive for McLaren for the next two years and then be free for a big deal. That definitely has Briatore’s signature.
“It can all go wrong, of course, but if it works out, then he (Briatore) has done everything right.”
It seems all the twists and turns are a long way from over in this drama.