Stories that made 2022: F1's Oscar Piastri saga

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Stories that made 2022: F1's Oscar Piastri saga

Formula 1

Stories that made 2022: F1's Oscar Piastri saga

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As the white flag waves on 2022, we asked RACER.com’s writers to reflect on the story from this year that resonated the most with them, based on any criteria they saw fit. Today, F1 correspondent Chris Medland remembers a story that played a huge part in shaping Formula 1’s silly season, albeit at some cost to his summer vacation plans…

I am here advocating for a summer break for Formula 1 news.

OK, maybe not. As a fan I always hate the gaps between races and want fresh stuff to read, but when our editor asked for a story that resonated from this year, the one that stood out for me was the Oscar Piastri saga in the summer that definitely ruined any attempts by members of the media to switch off for a few days.

Aston Martin had already got the jump on big news on the Monday morning after the Hungarian Grand Prix with the announcement that Fernando Alonso would be Sebastian Vettel’s replacement. Most people were already on planes back from the final race before the break, and it was a bit of a frustrating one for me as I’d regularly identified him as the most likely target during the Budapest weekend, but not got any further with the story.

There had been a few rumors about Piastri and his management being unhappy, but the Alpine response that Oscar would replace Fernando appeared to address that for all of a split second. Then there was zero interaction from Piastri, and questions to contacts within his circle were met with a silence that suggested all was not well.

Oscar’s tweet denying that he’d race for the team really kicked things off, but where this story was different was in the way that social media posts elevated it – and yet there was no direct access to any of those involved because there wasn’t a race or event for a number of weeks.

I remember speaking to sources at both Alpine and McLaren after landing in Chicago (for what was meant to be a holiday) and getting more information for stories, but the big one was when one of the team bosses called me for advice about how to handle the situation given some of what was being said and written. It was an hour-long call in a Chicago rooftop bar. Then their counterpart from the other team did something similar while I was under the bleachers at Wrigley Field before a Cubs game the following day. In fact, the only main protagonist I didn’t get to speak to at the time was Oscar himself.

It was surreal, having those sorts of discussions and gaining insight in such surroundings, From that it became clear that the story was really having an impact because people weren’t getting as much of an opportunity to put their point of view across, and the judgements being made in the vacuum were hurting both sides. But also with a legal battle (of sorts) set to unfold, care had to be taken about what was said and what wasn’t.

So in the middle of it, I actually really felt sympathy for Piastri. He needed to keep his mouth shut and say nothing while different opinions were being flung around, and couldn’t explain what had actually happened that brought him into the middle of this tug-of-war.

Once I learned what had really gone on over the previous 10 months leading up to him being confirmed as a McLaren driver, it became clear that Piastri and his management were well within their rights to take up an offer elsewhere, and probably should have been encouraged to do so given how poorly his situation had been handled.

At the same time, it wasn’t Otmar Szafnauer’s doing as he’d only been installed as team principal after the contract issue started, but he was the person tasked with fronting up by Alpine. And Zak Brown also came in for a lot of heat for dropping Daniel Ricciardo in such a manner, but that would also have been a lot more palatable if Piastri’s contract situation hadn’t been up for debate.

Just being privy to some of the behind-the-scenes information that couldn’t be shared at the time, and seeing how frustrating it must have been for all involved to not be able to just defend themselves with all of the details due to the ongoing dispute, was pretty remarkable.

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