How surprise twist could keep Ricciardo’s F1 career alive after Piastri shock: 2023 grid
F1 has entered its mid-season break, which can only mean that silly season has well and truly started for the category.
The retirement of Sebastian Vettel last week kicked off an early round of musical chairs with Aston Martin swiftly snapping up Fernando Alonso as a replacement for 2023.
And that has led to chaos in the F1 paddock involving two Australians, Daniel Ricciardo and Oscar Piastri, who have been motorsport’s hottest topic.
So how is next year’s F1 driver line-up shaping up?
Here, we take a look at the 2023 grid, including the murky situations facing Piastri and Ricciardo.
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ALL-AUSSIE F1 BOMBSHELL: Daniel Ricciardo ‘told he’ll be replaced’ by Oscar Piastri at McLaren
Things haven’t this good for Red Bull in nearly 10 years — so it’s no surprise to see its driver line-up this settled. Its world champion ace Max Verstappen just inked a five-year contract extension until 2028, which will see him earn a reported A$78 million a year. The only question mark earlier this season was around his teammate, Sergio Perez. Perez was a departure from the typical profile of a Red Bull recruit when he signed on for 2021 after his 30th birthday, and after several years in the sport. But Red Bull have been pleased with his performances — namely winning this year’s Monaco Grand Prix — and have just extended his contract until the end of 2024.
Ferrari has landed on a young, star-studded pairing with many of its best years still ahead. As such, Ferrari has locked down Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz on multi-year deals, hoping it has in its ranks its first world champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. 24-year-old Leclerc is signed up until 2026, and 27-year-old Sainz until the end of 2024. Now it’s up to Ferrari to keep the pair happy amid a slew of strategy blunders that have virtually already cost Leclerc his 2022 title challenge.
These are tough times Mercedes hasn’t had to deal with for some time, but it could hardly have a better driver line-up to take on the challenge. The Silver Arrows have arguably the grid’s strongest driver combination under contract. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton last year inked an extension until the end of 2023 that will net him a reported £40 million (A$75.6m) for each season. Despite rumours in the off-season that he might quit in the aftermath of that controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi decider, Hamilton is back and still has a score to settle. His 2022 title challenge was virtually dead on arrival due to his car’s porpoising issues. Mercedes have made big leaps since and could return as a big threat next year. George Russell, meanwhile, is the heir apparent to the Mercedes throne and has an unspecified long-term deal. His first year at Mercedes has already been a strong one — he sits just 15 points behind Perez at the mid-season break.
The elephant in the room here is the future of Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo. His future at McLaren is on death’s door and, in turn, there are concerns for his F1 career altogether. Ricciardo has been on an ugly collision course with his compatriot, Oscar Piastri. And if the reports from Friday are to be believed, McLaren has told him that he has lost out. It’s hardly a surprise after Piastri effectively turned down a guaranteed seat in F1 on Wednesday, when he denied Alpine’s statement that said he would drive for the team in 2023. It’s hard to imagine Piastri rejected a precious maiden F1 drive without one already lined up elsewhere. He appears to have an arrangement with McLaren (more on this below), which places Ricciardo’s future under serious threat. Earlier in the year, McLaren chief Zak Brown infamously revealed the “mechanisms” in Ricciardo’s deal that could see him leave the team ahead of schedule. Since then, there had been a big move from both sides of the fence to quieten the rumours of a premature split. But now, according to Autosport, the only matter to solve in forcing Ricciardo out for Piastri is the matter of a settlement. Ricciardo is after all contracted for 2023 but, if Piastri is to be believed, then there’s a vacancy at his old team that could keep his F1 career alive in the event of being pushed out of McLaren. That surprise U-turn for Ricciardo wouldn’t be as awkward as it seems given Alpine has changed management since he left, while team principal Otmar Szafnauer has left the door open to a return. Otherwise, the other options would be retirement, or pursuing a deal with a lower-table team. There are vacancies at Williams, Haas and Toro Rosso, but a seat alongside Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo could appeal most should Audi buy it and turn it into a works team. Meanwhile, Lando Norris is undoubtedly McLaren’s golden boy. He’s just signed a new deal until the end of 2025 worth a reported A$19m a year.
Alfa Romeo is settled on half of its garage with Valtteri Bottas locked in for at least one more season. The Finn has flourished away from the shadow of Hamilton at Mercedes, even if it’s taken him away from the battle for race wins, too. He claimed points at seven of the first nine races in 2022 and now impressively sits ahead of Alonso and Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings. His multi-year deal is believed to have an option for a third year, that would take him through to the end of 2024. Who his teammate will be, however, is up for debate. Zhou Guanyu has unsurprisingly been off Bottas’ pace, but has not looked entirely out of place on his promotion from F2. Team chief Frederic Vasseur told Autosport that Zhou has been “ticking all the boxes” and doing a “perfect” job. Nonetheless, he said it was crucial for both of his drivers to keep racing for points — and Zhou has missed out in all but two races. That leaves the door open to another rookie, such as academy member Theo Pourchaire, who is second in the F2 championship. The other route is to make a play for Daniel Ricciardo, if he is cut loose by McLaren, and form a strong, experienced line-up in anticipation of Audi potentially turning the team into a works operation soon. Nonetheless, Zhou is still the favourite to earn the nod for next season, unless his former employer, Alpine, comes knocking to solve its Piastri crisis.
Alpine is suddenly without a completed driver line-up for 2023 after Fernando Alonso dropped a bombshell by taking Sebastian Vettel’s vacant seat at Aston Martin. Only four days separated Vettel’s retirement announcement and the signing of two-time world champion Alonso, who just turned 41 but has no plans on retiring. It was thought to be good news for 21-year-old Melbournian Oscar Piastri who was a hot favourite to be promoted from his reserve driver role. As it turns out, he doesn’t want the seat at all. It’s a bombshell twist — and one that all but confirms that Piastri already has firm 2023 plans with McLaren. It had been widely reported that his manager, Mark Webber, earlier this season gave a big pitch to McLaren about taking on the young gun for next year. That was, however, at a time when it appeared Alonso would be staying put at Alpine. The goalposts have now changed, but it remains to be seen if Piastri’s plans can be changed, too. His declaration that he will “not be driving for Alpine next year” would suggest they can’t — as does McLaren’s reported message to Ricciardo. Although, Alpine believes it is “legally correct” in saying Piastri is their driver, meaning this matter could be heading to the FIA’s contract regulators. Whatever happens after that could be for a court to decide. Alpine was also thought to be close to securing a loan deal for Piastri at Williams, but that was also before it realised Alonso would be leaving. Meanwhile, Frenchman Esteban Ocon last year signed a three-year contract that keeps him at the team until the end of 2024. If Piastri isn’t his 2023 partner, then Alpine could look to lure Daniel Ricciardo back to Enstone, or Zhou Guanyu, who was a former junior with the team.
It’s rare to see a driver at AlphaTauri with the sort of longevity Pierre Gasly is offering. Given its dual role as a feeder team for Red Bull, AlphaTauri has historically had a high turnover of academy drivers, who would either be chewed up and spat back out — like Daniil Kvyat or Jean-Eric Vergne — or swiftly go on to bigger things, like Vettel, Ricciardo, Sainz or Verstappen. That the team has refused to let Gasly go, despite his failed half-season at Red Bull in 2019, speaks in volumes about just how highly Red Bull still rates the Frenchman. Gasly is still only 26 and has proven he’s capable of some stunning drives. Three times has he stood on the podium for AlphaTauri, including after a breathtaking win in Monza in 2020. Gasly has extended until the end of 2023, but teammate Yuki Tsunoda’s future is less clear. His rookie season was somewhat messy but he still earnt an extension for 2022. He’s closed the gap to Gasly this season, placing him in a good position for another extension. Tsunoda’s competition became smaller earlier this year when up-comer Juri Vips had his Red Bull contract torn up for using a racial slur during a Twitch stream. There will, however, still be a close eye on reserve driver and F2 star Liam Lawson, and fellow academy prospect Jehan Daruvala.
Kevin Magnussen has been among the biggest surprises of the season, making the most of his second chance at a F1 career. The Danish driver couldn’t move the team forward after four seasons and was dumped along with Romain Grosjean for a brand new line-up in 2021. The sudden unavailability of Russian Nikita Mazepin weeks out from the season handed Magnussen a lifeline that he hasn’t let go to waste. Magnussen has been the star of the show for Haas, claiming five points finishes, including a stunning fifth in his return race. That form placed the pressure on Mick Schumacher, who was guilty of making too many mistakes, notably his qualifying crashes in Saudi Arabia and Monaco. That saw him put on notice by team boss Gunther Steiner — but Schumacher responded strongly by finishing eighth at Silverstone, and sixth and the Red Bull Ring. Nonetheless, only Magnussen has a confirmed deal beyond this year having signed a “multi-year contract agreement”. Schumacher, meanwhile, was linked to Vettel’s seat at Aston Martin, but now looks likely to stay put at Haas. Any promotion to Ferrari looks years away from happening, if at all, but his employer will want to keep him on the books, making another deal at customer team Haas most likely. Steiner said a decision will be made during the mid-season break.
Aston Martin solved its 2023 dilemma in quicktime this week. Out goes four-time world champion legend Sebastian Vettel — retiring at season’s end — and in comes two-time world champion legend Fernando Alonso. Aston Martin has effectively retained the status quo by snapping up the Spaniard. In truth, a team with Aston Martin’s ambition, and wealth, was not going to settle for anything other than a big name. With Vettel leaving, and most other big-name drivers locked up for 2023, Alonso was virtually the only remaining option for boss Lawrence Stroll, who made sure he didn’t miss with his offer. Alonso has committed to a two-year deal from next year, joining Stroll’s son, Lance. Lance Stroll’s contractual situation is something of an unknown in F1 circles given his relationship with the boss. It’s thought his deal technically runs out at the end of the season, but at the same time, his future at Aston Martin is virtually assured as long as Lawrence is involved.
Williams locked in Alex Albon for 2023 in the team’s first move, with 2022 teammate Nicholas Latifi’s seat still unresolved. Williams remains at the back of the field, but Albon has dominated Latifi almost at every turn. Red Bull still retains an option to recall Albon, but will be happy to maintain its current arrangement for another season. Meanwhile, it’s Latifi who is under serious pressure. Latifi brought to the team additional funding, which Williams couldn’t do without when he signed in 2019. But Williams is now in a stronger financial position under private equity ownership, while Latifi simply hasn’t been up to scratch. The rumoured replacement is 27-year-old Mercedes-contracted Nyck de Vries, who could land a similar deal at Williams to what Russell did before being promoted. That is unless Williams opts to blood its own academy driver, in which case 21-year-old American Logan Sargeant is a genuine chance.