The Oscar Piastri saga couldn’t have come at a worse time for Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian F1 driver would have been eager to recharge the batteries in the mid-season break after a tumultuous first half of 2022, but the 33-year-old has instead become embroiled in the sport’s latest off-track drama.
The retirement of four-time world 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 announced on Wednesday morning Aussie young gun Piastri would be joining France’s Esteban Ocon next season.
But they may have jumped the gun.
“I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year,” Piastri said in a statement. “This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
The 21-year-old’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.
Despite being contracted with McLaren until the end of 2023, Ricciardo is seemingly at risk of losing his seat to young compatriot Piastri.
Last year, the Perth driver spoke about how important the mid-season break was for him amid a disappointing maiden season with McLaren.
Ricciardo briefly silenced his critics by winning the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, but the dramatic triumph remains his only podium finish for the Woking-based team.
Australian F1 fans will be hoping Ricciardo can rediscover his mojo next after the August holiday, but the Piastri drama has ensured it will be difficult for Ricciardo to clear his head during the mid-season break.
“To be honest, switching off normally gives me like a natural reset,” he said after last week’s Hungarian Grand Prix, as reported by motorsport.com.
“To a point where I imagine in say 10 days, two weeks into the break, I would have kind of got the holiday out of my system, and then I’ll build that hunger back again.
“So I’ll naturally think about it, after getting time off. That’s normally how it works for me.
“Again, go out with friends, drink some beers, have fun. And then I‘ll get to the point where I start to not feel guilty, but just like alright, time to turn it on again. And then it’s kind of a natural switch that will come back probably after 14 days.
“A bit like last year, kind of start that second half of this season with a positive bang and just to get the ball rolling. The triple header, it’s intense.
“So I think come out and set some strong intentions. That‘s the plan. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. But that’s certainly the plan.”
Good luck switching off while F1’s silly season explodes — with Ricciardo placed firmly in the middle of it all.
ESPN reports four rival teams have contacted Ricciardo over the past couple of weeks to assess where his head is at regarding his future.
Ricciardo has struggled to prove his worth since joining McLaren in 2021, repeatedly being outclassed by younger teammate Lando Norris.
McLaren boss Zak Brown publicly confessed the Australian, who is 12th in the drivers’ standings with 19 points, has failed to meet expectations.
Ricciardo is still adapting to the intricacies of the MCL36, which he described as one of the more difficult F1 cars he’s driven.
“I remember where in a race stint you could do 20 laps and you could stay within three tenths probably for a 20-lap stint at times, and kind of just be very in control,” he said.
“There’s some laps, which I’ll put together, and kind of make sense. And I’m like, that was sweet. But then a couple of laps later, I might drop four tenths (of a second) or something, and then I’m like, ughh …
“It’s not so simple, like a dot-to-dot, there’s some hurdles before getting to the next dot. And so that’s a little complicated.
“I guess when it’s on more of a knife-edge or when there’s more variables, that’s where it starts to become that step more difficult.”
Even if Ricciardo were cast aside by McLaren ahead of next season, that wouldn’t necessarily signal the end of his F1 career.
Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer has not shut the door on Ricciardo making a shock return if the F1 team was unable to keep Piastri.
Regardless, 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.”
The F1 season will resume at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, August 28.