Oscar Piastri’s strong Formula 2 form is forcing Alpine to wait on finalizing its plans for its academy drivers in 2022, admits the team’s executive director Marcin Budkowski.
Alpine has already confirmed its own driver line-up for next season – retaining Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon – and Chinese academy member Guanyu Zhou has been most heavily linked with a seat at Alfa Romeo. However, Piastri leads the more experienced Zhou by 36 points in the Formula 2 championship battle as he seeks his third straight junior title, and Budkowski says his rapid rise has played a part in Alpine taking longer to determine his future.
“I’m not going to give any information on what our plans for next year are, partly because they are still in the making,” Budkowski said. “Definitely Oscar’s been extremely impressive. He is potentially on course to win his third championship in three years. He has won F3, he won the Renault EuroCup in the previous years, so what a streak already.
“Even if he doesn’t win it, it’s a pretty strong three years for a young driver. I think there’s very few that have managed that in the past, so does that impress us at Alpine? Of course it does. Will he win the championship? We’ll know that soon, but certainly it does have an influence on the plans we are making for next year for the reserve driver’s seat, and for the year output of the academy in general.”
While Zhou is still considered the favorite for the Alfa Romeo seat, Budkowski says it should be seen as a positive that Alpine has so many young drivers potentially ready to race in F1.
“It’s a great problem to have, isn’t it?,” he said. “What we are basically saying is that our academy has been successful at generating great talent, and in a way a few of them are coming to maturity and are ready for F1 at the same time.
“So, credit to the academy that we have been running for a few years, and to Mia Sharizman, our academy director, who has been preparing all these youngsters and taking them through all these various categories successfully. On Guanyu Zhou, there are rumors flying around, and I am not going to comment on rumors here, or on driver contracts. As I said, we are evaluating options for our academy drivers, but the success of an academy is also measured through its output.
“We are running this academy because we want to generate Formula 1 drivers, Formula 1 drivers for Alpine, and the academy as such is only successful if it does generate Formula 1 drivers, so we can’t stand in the way of our drivers who are mature for F1 and ready to take that challenge because that would be, obviously, negative for their careers and for them as individuals and also it would reflect badly on our academy.
“So these are the parameters, if you want, we need to take into account when assessing our plans for next year.”