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Major Updates in the Complex World of Formula One

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks within the world of Formula One to see the very least. Breaking news is seemingly a daily phenomenon, making it almost impossible to write an article and have it relevant by the time it is published. As we entered the second leg of this season Last week with the Belgian Grand Prix, much was still up in the air, and arguably much still is. However, if I were to wait until everything was settled to write a Formula One update, the article would be dissertation length with long-standing announcements of “old news.” Since things appear to have calmed down a little bit, there is no time like the present to give a thorough update on the world of F1.

Let's take a dive into the multitude of relevant and current issues arising within the sport.

Alonso’s Move and its Continued Repercussions: The Piastri Saga Continues

This huge tumultuous period was kicked off by the retirement of Sebastian Vettel in the surprise move of Fernando Alonso from Alpine to Aston Martin to fill the vacancy left by Vettel’s retirement. This left Alpine with an unexpected vacancy it planned to fill with its current reserve driver Oscar Piastri. this backfired when Piastri publicly declared that he had no contract with the team for 2023, sending the driver market into “silly season.” Several of my other Formula One articles here on Conduct Detrimental examine the repercussions of this in more depth, and if you're interested in my more detailed thoughts, you can read about them in those articles.

Direct repercussions

This uncertainty also called into question Daniel Ricciardo's seat at McLaren for next year. Ricciardo was contracted to race with the team through the 2023 season, but Piastri was rumored to be linked to the seat he currently occupied after his public statements stating he had no intention of driving for Alpine in 2023. Well, it looks like all of this uncertainty has finally been resolved.

Late last week, Daniel Ricciardo announced that he would leave McLaren at the end of the year— a year before his contract was set to expire. This implies McLaren had to reach an agreement with Ricciardo to terminate the contract a year before it was set to—likely including a very large “early termination fee” for the driver. While it is fair to say that Ricciardo has underperformed in his two years in declaring, it still comes as a surprise the team was willing to shell out what one can only imagine as a hefty sum of money to terminate a contract with a driver who still possesses great potential, and it was clear that McLaren was planning on poaching Piastri from Alpine to fill that vacancy.

With Alpine being “left” with an empty seat it expected to have Piastri fill without many great alternatives, it might be tempted to resign Ricciardo, who raced for the team for two years before departing for McLaren. While this may be the team’s best short-term option, there's likely a bit of skepticism within the team. After all, Ricciardo was being paid $25 million a year by the team (then called Renault) when he made a surprise decision to switch to McLaren, leaving Renault frustrated at the lack of loyalty by Ricciardo (sound familiar to their statements around Piastri?). But if Alpine doesn’t fill their vacancy with Ricciardo, who do they sign?

Gasly to Alpine?

Recently, Helmut Marko, essentially the de facto leader of both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri Formula One teams, made a statement that he would not stand in Pierre Gasly’s way if Alpine made an enticing offer to the driver to fill their vacancy. This comes as a surprise, as Gasly has come into his own since his unfortunate demotion back to Alpha Tauri from Red Bull. Another driver that may potentially fill Alpine’s vacancy could be Mick Schumacher. Schumacher is technically controlled by Ferrari as a member of their Driver Academy, but reports have recently circulated that he “wants out” from under Ferrari’s control. whatever the case may be Alpine has limited options and needs to move quickly before those limited options become contracted elsewhere.

The End Result:

At the time of the announcement that Ricciardo would leave McLaren, this decision seemed very bold considering the outcome of the battle for Piastri was uncertain. as mentioned in an earlier article authored by me, both Alpine and McLaren believed that they had a valid contract with Piastri for 2023. This matter was sent to Formula One’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB), which operates as an independent arbitrator when contract disputes arise between drivers and teams. This board is in place because Formula One is an international entity with teams headquartered within different countries, and having an internal arbitrator simplifies the process of dispute resolution.

This morning, the CRB announced its final decision on the contract disputes revolving around Piastri, finding that McLaren had a valid contract with the driver for 2023—confirming my speculation that Alpine had failed to sign Piastri to a deal before a release clause in his contract was activated. This will come as a huge blow to Alpine, which is invested hundreds of millions of dollars into prepping Piastri for a Formula One drive.

There is still the option that Alpine try to bring a suit against Piastri in an actual court to recover what they see as a “lost investment” in the young driver, with both the team and Piastri having strong arguments in favor of their positions. However, it is unclear if the team will pursue this, or just accept defeat and try to move on from this public embarrassment.

Williams Hung Out To Dry

In all of this, it's very easy to forget Williams, who also has a “vacancy” for next year. the team early this year was rumored to have decided to not resign current driver Nicolas Latifi, with the understanding that they were likely to receive Piastri on a short-term loan deal from Alpine. Obviously, this is no longer an option, and their second seat is still very much up in the air.

Engine Regulations Finalized

In mid-August, Formula One and the FIA approved the new 2026 power unit regulations and specifications. These regulations are a stark departure from current engine specifications, with many key changes. By 2026, the new combustion engines must run on 100% synthetic (“renewable”) fuels. Due to this change, regulation of fuel use will change from limiting the mass volume flow to a calculation of “maximum energy flow” (which is as ambiguous and arbitrary as it sounds). Development of the bottom half of the internal combustion engine will be limited, but the development of the top half of the engine will be expanded. Power output will be increased by the electric components of the v6 turbo hybrid engines to compensate for the expected loss of horsepower from the switch to synthetic fuels. The most important change in regulation though comes in the form of dropping the MGU-H, a complex electrical component completely.

While all of that is very technical and not super important to fully understand for a casual fan, the implications of the finalization of these rules are impactful for a number of reasons—The chief reason being Audi and Porsche. Audi and Porsche have long men rumored to enter F1, but only if some of the engine specifications they requested were included, and the delay in formal announcements by both manufacturers was attributed to the fact that regulations had yet to be formally decided.

Not surprisingly, soon after the finalization of the new power unit specifications, Audi announced that it would be entering Formula One as a new works team, taking over the Alpha Romeo-sponsored, and Sauber-run team. It was also thought that Porsche would announce soon afterward, as both of these entrants were the worst-kept secrets in Formula One, but there appears to be an issue or two with the proposed Porsche and Red Bull partnership.

Red Bull/Audi Merger Shows Signs of Failure

Earlier this year there was a document leaked that was filed in Morocco relating to the proposed Red Bull powertrains and Porsche joint venture. Among other things, this document stated that Porsche was going to acquire 50% of the parent company for Red Bull Racing. Personally, I thought this percentage was quite large and didn't quite make sense with the way that Red Bull operates. It seems that my original intuition might also be felt by management within the team as well.

There appears to be a rift between the owner of Red Bull (the company that actually owns Red Bull Racing) and the actual management of the team. Sources within the paddock have recently stated that Red Bull Racing itself would prefer to remain more autonomous, especially with the amount of money and effort it is put into starting its own engine at the division to be a fully independent team for the first time. If a large automaker like Porsche were to purchase a 50% stake and therefore control 50% of the decisions, the way that Red Bull operates as a team with the resources of a manufacturer while retaining the freedom of an independent team would be undermined and subject to decisions made by disinterested and uninformed board members in Germany instead of passionate F1 managers as it has been in the past.

The fact that Audi announced their entry over a week ago while Porsche has not made any announcement yet points to a hiccup developing within what the entire Formula One community thought was an inevitability, and seriously jeopardizes Porsches’ purported entry into Formula One. This topic deserves an article unto itself, and I will save diving into more detail for a later article.

Wrapping Up/Takeaways

That was a lot. Let's take a second just to recap the main points here.

  • Oscar Piastri will officially be racing for McLaren in 2023 after the CRB’s final decision was released earlier today. This leaves Alpine to decide who will fill their vacancy—whether that be Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Mick Schumacher, or some other option.

  • Williams, Alpha Romeo, Alpha Tauri, Alpine, and Haas still technically have unsigned seats, meaning that contract silly season is likely far from over.

  • The 2026 engine regulations have been finalized, meaning teams can actually start preparing power units to comply.

  • Audi has officially announced its entry into Formula One by taking over Alpha Romeo-sponsored Sauber (which has its own complexities that deserves a dedicated article), while Porsche has not yet announced their entry which implies trouble in paradise with Red Bull.

With so much information and so many topics to cover, I will certainly write more detailed articles describing these instances in the coming weeks. I hope that this “quick” recap has been both interesting and informational. Formula One is a complex world with many interesting questions and issues, and I will dive into as many of them as I can.

Zachary Bryson is a graduate of Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Economics and a Minor in Entrepreneurship. He is currently a JD candidate at Elon University School of Law, Class of 2023. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @ZacharySBryson.

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