Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi is keeping the door open to loaning Oscar Piastri to a rival team next season to get the Aussie young gun onto the grid.
Piastri is a triple junior champion, winning consecutive titles in Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula 3 and Formula 2 as an Alpine academy driver, but his graduation to F1 this season was blocked by a lack of available seats, leaving him to spectate from the sidelines as the team’s official reserve driver.
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The French team is currently fielding Esteban Ocon, who has a long-term deal, and Fernando Alonso, who is out of contract next season but said last week that he intends to remain in Formula 1 for two or three more years.
Three into two clearly doesn’t go, but Rossi says he’s been preparing a plan to ensure Piastri gets himself into a car for 2023.
“It’s always been a parameter for all of us — we knew last year that Fernando was performing, and it would be very surprising that suddenly during the winter he lost his magic,” Rossi told select media, including Fox Sports. “So let’s be realistic. It’s part of the scenarios we need to explore.
“I want to develop Oscar. I don’t want to have him sitting on the bench waiting forever.
“He needs to be ready when the day comes, and the day will come, because he’s extremely talented.”
Though Rossi refused to be drawn on whether he was talking to rival teams about a loan agreement, he hinted heavily that an external drive was firming as an option.
He also added that he is “not against having collaborations with teams” that don’t run the Renault power unit — crucial considering the French marque has no current engine customers, which is the standard route for driver and technical partnerships.
“If it’s a solution that allows me to get him back at some point, I might think about it, yeah,” he said, emphasizing that any deal would have to keep the Australian on a short leash. “I’m not opposed to these solutions.”
But Rossi was clear that Piastri’s ultimate future was at Alpine. The French company returned to Formula 1 as a constructor in 2016 with a five-year plan to return to championship contention for the first time since its 2005–06 driver-constructor doubles with Alonso, but the time frame has blown out to 2024 after the introduction of new rules and cost controls.
A loan agreement would then likely bring the Australian back to Enstone for its targeted title-contending years, and the team believes he can lead it to championship glory.
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“That’s the thing we discussed with him and [manager] Mark Webber,” he said. “I would love to have Oscar as my driver for the future Alpine.
“For me the ideal scenario is that he wins races and championships with us. This is basically what we’re trying to achieve.”
Rossi wouldn’t put to time frame on any potential deal, but team principal Otmar Szafnauer suggested that decisions would likely be made early in the second half of the year.
“I think the pressure and the silly season will be upon us in July,” he said.
In the meantime Rossi has put Piastri on a comprehensive testing program to make him “probably the best prepared driver ever,” in the words of full-time teammate Esteban Ocon. He’ll also be integrated into the race team on a deeper level than a regular reserve driver and partake in free practice sessions later in the year.
“It’s going to be an extensive testing program,” Rossi said. “We’ll get more out of an extensive program on track and off track in the simulator.
“Usually we try and mix it up — we don’t have the same drivers doing all the test days, the same drivers doing all of the simulator [work]because they are perhaps having different points of view on this and that — but we feel like Oscar can probably bring more than less seasoned drivers on the simulator.
“Plus we are including him a bit more in depth than other drivers in the briefing room and the data analysis.
“He is also looking at other cars, the driving lines, and providing potential feedback on the way the cars behave or even the drivers, the way they take some turns and stuff like that.
“With Oscar it’s probably better input, better feedback, because he’s so good. We can rely on that. It’s not like someone is saying something and you’re like, ‘Yeah, right. What do they know?’.
“So he’s getting a lot of information, a lot of experience, expertise, taking a lot in
“It’s much more intense than a rookie and/or reserve driver program would get. And again, even compared to last year, my reserve driver was not necessarily involved in all those briefing debriefs, certainly not doing all the tests, clearly not going so much on the simulator, and that’s normal. Oscar is doing it all.
“He’s very worthy of one of the top 20 seats here, and I do believe he has the potential of being a future world champion, I am persuaded of that. So he needs to be in this to be trained as much as he can in the meantime.”