Daniel Ricciardo deserves better than to be a pawn in McLaren’s pursuit of Oscar Piastri

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Tuesday’s notable events around alpine junior Oscar Piastri – which have been tagged Oscargate and the Piasco online – appear to confirm that McLaren intends to replace one Aussie in Daniel Ricciardo with another.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown now appears to be playing a game of chicken with his superstar driver, waiting for him to walk away from his contract so he doesn’t have to pay a hefty penalty for tearing it up before it expired late 2023 Ricciardo has exit clauses on his side of his deal, but there is evident reluctance on the part of the eight-time race winner to fall on his sword to bail Brown out of a legal mess of his own making .

Multiple sources have told ESPN that Piastri has signed a deal with McLaren. While the exact terms of that deal are unclear at this time, Brown is believed to be determined to get him in the team’s race car. Piastri’s statement that “I will not be racing at Alpine in 2023” underlined that he sees his future with McLaren and not with Alpine.

McLaren declined to comment when contacted by ESPN.

Piastri’s tweet garnered remarkable attention from a driver who has yet to even spin the wheel of a Formula 1 car during a Grand Prix weekend, which speaks volumes for the quality of the player’s ranking 21 years old.

Formula 2 champion Piastri has a stellar record at junior level and is considered the best graduate from F1’s feeder series since the class of 2019 – George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. But his Formula 1 experience is limited to testing F1 cars, most of which have been paid for by Alpine. The French manufacturer recently presented a 5,000 km test program, which is ongoing.

Of course, it remains to be seen if McLaren can even get Piastri, with Alpine clearly ready to fight to keep their prodigy in the squad and drive for them in 2023, although events of the past 24 hours may have soured relations between both. parties. Alpine’s statement that Piastri was promoted was that the team was setting out its legal position that they had no doubts where he is contractually bound to race next season.

That decision will be made by the FIA’s Contract Recognition Committee and, despite the hectic drama on Tuesday afternoon, may well take some time to resolve.

Regardless of how that plays out, McLaren’s position seems to be clear and it’s hard to see how their relationship with Ricciardo will develop beyond this point.

Ricciardo deserves better

This reflects very poorly on how Brown and McLaren have treated Ricciardo over the past six months. Ricciardo, the only McLaren driver to win an F1 race since 2012, was the first to admit his performance fell short of the standards he set at Red Bull and Renault, but it seems that he was made as a scapegoat to deflect the team’s deeper issues.

There have been other stories in 2022 – Mercedes’ violently bouncing car or Ferrari’s regular capitulations, to name but two – which distracted from the fact that McLaren was one of the stories. the most disappointing of this season. The team entered the year promising a return to the front of the grid, an opportunity offered by the huge technical rule change, but fell incredibly short of what it had promised for 2022.

While Ferrari, for whom McLaren battled for third place in the championship last year, took the lead with their new car this year, the British team have floundered in the same no-man’s-land they have been in. rediscovered last year and is locked in a battle for fourth (and now, Piastri) with Alpine, some distance behind Mercedes and even further from the leading pair.

So while Ricciardo struggles and Norris, probably a generational talent but still hasn’t won a race, fared much better in the other car, the bottom line is that McLaren delivered another car disappointing and underperforming. Given the gap up front, it’s fair to suggest that McLaren could flounder in midfield for another year or two. Replacing Ricciardo with another driver won’t change that, especially one who is likely to experience the growing pains associated with any rookie driver in F1. Brown was lucky there weren’t tougher questions about why under his watch McLaren seem unable to put together a winning F1 racing operation.

And that only covers the aspect on the track. Ricciardo remains one of F1’s most marketable talents and has done wonders for the McLaren brand off the track. The recent arrival of OkX was linked to Ricciardo, who is the brand ambassador of the cryptocurrency exchange. A relative unknown outside motor racing like Piastri would not fill that void that would be left by Ricciardo, who is one of the most unique personalities the sport has had in a long time. Brown is also unlikely to want Norris to take on the majority of McLaren’s business duties if it would hurt his racing form.

Ricciardo deserves credit for the way he handled himself in a sticky situation, with Brown adding three drivers – Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou – to McLaren’s stable and making no secret of his desire to do enter Piastri in the team. Brown has already shown a disregard for contractual agreements this year. Piastri’s situation is remarkably similar to what happened in IndyCar last month, when Chip Ganassi announced that Palou would stay with them, only for Palou to tweet that the press release was sent without his knowledge. An announcement that Palou would join McLaren’s roster for 2023 followed shortly after, although that part has yet to happen in Piastri’s case.

It’s been an open secret in the F1 paddock for several months. Brown was in talks with Piastri and his manager, Mark Webber. Against this backdrop, and with Ricciardo doing a significant amount of McLaren’s business work behind the scenes, there’s a lot going on off the racetrack that would distract a driver from his racing job.

Most drivers would have felt disrespected and some would have made their feelings known in the media, but Ricciardo was remarkably professional in the face of Brown’s maneuvers. The statement Ricciardo released last month saying he intended to see out his contract until the end of 2023 is as close as we have seen him to coming to a public disagreement with his boss.

ESPN understands the same is still true now, although Ricciardo is open to the reality that he needs to consider what his options away from McLaren might be. Despite his struggles this year and last, there will be no shortage of suitors. ESPN knows of four different teams that have contacted him over the past two weeks to assess where his head is. Teams surveying a driver during the summer months are not uncommon in F1, but it’s clear that Ricciardo would always attract the attention of teams up and down the grid – at his best he’s still one of the F1’s best drivers and overtakers, as well as being one of the most marketable drivers on the grid at the moment and particularly popular in America, a market that is exploding like never before for Formula 1.

Ricciardo has an option on his side of the McLaren contract to leave and he may well see the seat Piastri doesn’t want at Alpine as a good landing spot. However, as the events of this week have shown, with Alpine losing Fernando Alonso to Aston Martin and potentially losing Piastri to McLaren, there are questions about the quality of the French team’s management and if she will ever be more than a glorified midfield outfit. A move to Ferrari or Mercedes, two longtime ambitions of Ricciardo, seems unlikely to materialize, but he may well take solace in the examples of Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas this year – both joined midfield teams competitive and excelled.

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