The Formula One summer break is a one-month break that gives drivers time to recuperate. This break also allows teams time to upgrade their cars and prepare strategies for the second half of the season. While cars are in the garage and drivers are back home or exploring the world, the news surrounding Formula One has been far from dormant. Throughout this series, I will be breaking down the stories that have broken during each week of this break until Formula One resumes with the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28th.
Fernando Alonso Abandons the French
On Monday, August 1st, Aston Martin, the Lawrence Stroll-backed British outfit, announced that they would be signing Fernando Alonso for the 2023 Formula One season. Alonso is a 41-year-old two-time World Drivers’ Champion AND two-time winner at Le Mans. Alonso will be the veteran presence to compliment the younger Lance Stroll. This was the first announcement that any team made regarding open seats for the 2023 season. The announcement came after current Aston Martin driver, Sebastian Vettel, a four-time World Drivers’ Champion, announced his retirement after the season.
There was very little time between Vettel and Astons Martin’s announcements which came as a surprise to many people. This included Alonso’s current team, the French-based BWT Alpine. Reports have surfaced that Alpine was unaware of Alonso’s departure and may have been blindsided by the loss of a popular driver.
Alpine’s Team Principal, Otmar Szafnauer, was quoted as saying, “I was very confident then that Fernando would continue with us, and that was said with integrity and honesty.” He went on to say “And then the next morning I woke too… well actually I woke up before the release but the next morning I saw the release from Aston [Martin]. We were very, very close, with what I thought was a fair contract on both sides and Fernando did too, but it looks like he decided to do something else thereafter.”
Currently, the seat Alonso vacated sits empty as Alpine seeks to sign another driver for the 2023 season.
The Signing of Piastri that Wasn’t
Following the departure of Fernando Alonso, Alpine announced that it had signed their reserve driver Oscar Piastri for the 2023 season. Issues arose when Piastri tweeted on Tuesday claiming this was never true. He stated “I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 has put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”
It is rare that a driver denies an open seat in Formula One and it is even rarer that a team makes as big of a contract blunder as this. The Formula One world is currently unsure what lead to the premature announcement, however, Piastri will continue to serve as Alpine’s reserve driver for the foreseeable future.
Williams and Albon Marry for the Coming Years
After two of the most chaotic days in Formula One driver contract history, a bright light shone through in Williams’ announcement that they would be signing Alex Albon to a new multi-year deal. This announcement came on Wednesday during the first week of the summer break.
And yes, Alex Albon did confirm that this was true. This signing is a feel-good signing for a driver who has earned his seat. Albon’s future in Formula One was once in doubt as he was demoted to a Red Bull reserve driver in 2021. He was picked up by Williams for the 2022 season and has shown that he can perform on Sundays even in a less-than-competitive car.
Riccardo and McLaren Divorce Looming
Daniel Riccardo is most certainly the most popular driver on the grid. The Australian-born driver has won 8 races during his 11 years in Formula One. However, his biggest accomplishment has been his ability to bring his bright smile to the grid every weekend. However, rumors surrounding the driver’s future have most likely dulled the brightness in his smile. It is no secret that Riccardo has struggled as of late in his current seat at McLaren. Under his current contract, Riccardo is slated for another year at McLaren.
Enter the chaos surrounding Alpine and Piastri. As noted earlier, the beginning of this first week saw contract blunders by Alpine and Oscar Piastri. Out of this, rumors have surfaced that McLaren is in talks with Piastri to replace Riccardo for the 2023 season. Given the current landscape of the contracts, Riccardo would have to opt-out of his contract in order to allow McLaren to lock in Piastri for an F1 seat.
If these rumors are true, and they very much seem to be, this conflict could go to the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) established by the FIA, the governing body for Formula One. The CRB is a body well versed in the law of contract and aims to decide these types of contract disputes. This body is similar to arbitration boards set up in American-based leagues which aim to avoid the lengthy process of the court system and handle contract disputes in-house.
With all the controversies that have occurred thus far during the Formula One summer break, I will be updating these stories and breaking others every Sunday until the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28th.
Justin Mader is a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law where he earned a J.D. and a Sports and Entertainment Law Certificate. He can be reached via Twitter: @maderlaw and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-mader-15a602119/.