Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer has not shut the door on Daniel Ricciardo making a shock return if the F1 team was unable to keep Australian young gun Oscar Piastri.

The rumour mill has gone into overdrive after Piastri rejected an offer to join Alpine’s driver line-up for the 2023 season on Wednesday morning AEST.

The retirement of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel has sparked a domino effect in the F1 paddock, with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso signing a multi-year deal with Aston Martin earlier this week.

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Alonso’s departure left a vacancy at Alpine, and the F1 team quickly announced that Piastri would join France’s Esteban Ocon next season.

But they may have jumped the gun, with the 21-year-old Aussie boldly claiming in a statement: “I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”

Piastri’s bombshell declaration would suggest he has already secured a seat with a rival team, one of the most likely candidates being at McLaren, replacing countryman Ricciardo.

The 33-year-old Perth driver has struggled to prove his worth since joining the British team in 2021, managing just one podium finish in 18 months.

Ricciardo has repeatedly been outclassed by younger teammate Lando Norris, with McLaren boss Zak Brown publicly confessing the Australian has failed to meet expectations.

And despite being contracted with McLaren until the end of 2023, Ricciardo is reportedly at risk of losing his seat to Piastri.

If that’s the case, Ricciardo’s options are limited. Although he is an eight-time F1 race winner, his recent form would deter rival teams from fighting to secure his signature.

However, there is a potential vacancy at one of his former outfits.

Joining Alpine — formerly known as Renault — in 2019, Ricciardo jumped ship after just two seasons and signed for McLaren ahead of 2021.

The Aussie’s decision inevitably did not sit well with the Renault hierarchy, particularly former boss Cyril Abiteboul.

“Every single one of us at Renault, our focus is on the stability of the team. Pure focus on this season’s performance,” Abiteboul told Netflix’s Drive to Survive.

“We need to be in a position to be fighting for wins and championships, and Daniel has put a stop to that.

“What’s hurting the most is it’s not the long-term project I thought we signed up for.”

Abiteboul has since left the team, but according to Autosport, current Renault Group boss Luca de Meo was particularly frustrated by Ricciardo’s departure.

Despite the lingering bad blood, Szafnauer — at the helm of the rebranded Alpine — hinted he would be willing to sign Ricciardo if the opportunity presented itself.

“I mean, if you look at Fernando (Alonso), for example, he comes and goes, and I think that happens to other drivers too,” he told Autosport.

“And I don‘t think that’s an issue at all. I think what we need to focus on is, like I say, the plans that we have for the next 89-88 races.

“We‘ve got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us. And we put the best driver in next to Esteban (Ocon), so that we can move forward towards what we’ve been planning.”

Szafnauer also confirmed to motorsport.com.au that Alpine has already received numerous calls from other drivers.

However, Alpine still hopes to hold onto Piastri, while Ricciardo has made it abundantly clear he has no interest in departing McLaren anytime soon.

“There have been a lot of rumours around my future in Formula 1, but I want you to hear it from me,” he posted to Instagram last month.

“I am committed to McLaren until the end of next year and am not walking away from the sport. Appreciate it hasn’t always been easy, but who wants easy!

“I’m working my a** off with the team to make improvements and get the car right and back to the front where it belongs. I still want this more than ever.”

If Ricciardo were moved aside ahead of next season, McLaren would presumably be forced into forking out millions to break their contract with the West Australian.

The F1 season will resume at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, August 28.

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