Alan Jones started 116 Formula 1 races between 1975-1986, winning 12 times. He was the 1980 world champion.
I’ve said so many times that one of the things I love about Formula 1 is the fact there’s often more intrigue and action off the track than on it, and the last week has certainly proved that to be the case, and we’ve got Aussies right in the thick of it.
There’s still no official confirmation about who drives where in 2023, but one thing’s certain: Daniel Ricciardo won’t be at McLaren. There’s no way in the wide world that’s going to happen.
Every now and again a driver comes along who wins everything he puts his backside into, and that’s Oscar Piastri.
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McLaren are taking a bit of a risk with him, given he’s never driven an F1 race, but he’s done a heap of time in the simulator, and also in last year’s Alpine car. He’s even driven McLaren’s simulator, because he’s one of their reserve drivers for this year, so McLaren have some idea what they’re getting. They’re not fools.
That said, Oscar’s taking a bit of a risk, there’s no doubt about that. Lando Norris is a bloody good driver, so Piastri is going to have to bring his A Game pretty much from day one to match him. And because of the controversy and the way it’s played out, Oscar is going to have to be on the pace straight away.
Daniel Ricciardo is facing the possibility of his F1 career coming to an end. (Eddie Jim/The Age)
If he’s half a second slower than Lando, you can bet your life all the couch cowboys will be ready to jump on him and criticise him. It’s going to make for fascinating viewing.
It’s a big ask for Oscar, but you look at what happened when George Russell filled in for one race at Mercedes when Lewis Hamilton had COVID-19 in 2020. Russell had the race lead, and it was only a botched pitstop and bad luck that denied him a podium or possibly a win.
If you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and that’s what everyone is saying about Oscar. I just hope he’s not reading too much of his press, because it can go to your head.
The way it’s unfolded is something completely new, they’re having a major fight over somebody they’re hoping will turn into a great Formula 1 driver. All the signs point to the fact he will be, but until you’ve actually started a race there’s a little bit of a question mark.
Oscar Piastri (left) along with Esteban Ocon, Alpine boss Laurent Rossi and Fernando Alonso at the launch of the 2022 car. (Twitter/Alpine)
At least when Jordan and Benetton were fighting over Michael Schumacher all those years ago he’d done one race. Interestingly, Flavio Briatore was behind that move, and I reckon his fingerprints are all over this as well. Don’t forget he still manages Fernando Alonso, and he looked after Oscar’s manager Mark Webber during his career.
Oscar’s statement saying he wouldn’t be racing for Alpine showed he’s got no shortage of confidence. For a rookie to so publicly turn down the team, it makes me pretty confident he’s already done a deal at McLaren.
You wouldn’t come out and say what he did if you didn’t have somewhere to go, it would be suicide otherwise. It 100 per cent confirms to me that he’s going to be in a McLaren next year.
Which leaves Daniel.
With all due to respect to him, and I like Daniel very much and rate him highly as a racing driver, someone who can fight wheel-to-wheel and make passes, there comes a time when saying you’re having difficulty adapting to the car washes a bit thin.
Daniel Ricciardo (right) with McLaren teammate Lando Norris. (Getty)
At the end of the day, if you’re a good racing driver you have to adapt to the car you’ve got. All cars are a little bit different and good drivers adapt to them.
In Formula 1 the first person you have to beat is your teammate, and the major problem for Daniel is Lando. There’s no point pulling into the pits and telling your engineer that the car is a piece of shit, and he responds by telling you your teammate is a second quicker.
That really takes the wind out of your sails a little bit.
Where he ends up is anyone’s guess. I hope he doesn’t consider Williams for 2023, that would just be a complete disaster, I couldn’t see a future there at all.
Going back to Alpine would be OK, because they’re improving all the time and there’s a completely different management structure to what was there when Daniel drove for the team in 2019-2020, so he wouldn’t be walking back into a hostile situation. It would be a new environment.
Daniel Ricciardo has struggled since joining McLaren. (Getty)
He could even leave Formula 1 altogether. He’s got a house in Los Angeles, he loves America, so IndyCar is definitely an option for him. The money’s good, not as good as Formula 1, but certainly good, and the racing is competitive.
All the cars are pretty much identical except for the engines, and even the different engines have roughly the same horsepower. It’s a good category where driver talent means a lot.
What the whole thing shows is the driver contracts mean very little in Formula 1. They never have. Drivers have walked out or been fired when they’ve got a contract, it’s been going on forever. In 1977 I signed a contract to race for Ferrari, then they went out and signed Gilles Villeneuve. I may as well have used the contract to wipe my arse, it was worthless.
Daniel’s situation means McLaren are probably saying to Piastri that we can whack you in the car, but we can’t pay you an enormous amount of money next year, because we’re going to have to pay Daniel’s contract out.
If they have to pay Daniel $15-$20 million, they might just tell Piastri that he’ll be getting peanuts in 2023, but they can upgrade that in future years.
Oscar Piastri after winning at Monza during his F2 championship year in 2021. (Getty)
It’s a shame that it’s two Australians fighting over the same seat, but Mark and Oscar aren’t knifing Daniel or anything like that. It’s not personal. Mark and Oscar are just doing what’s best for Oscar. Formula 1 is the absolute elite of motor racing, and you do what you have to do. You take no prisoners.
That said, I’m sure there’ll be some fans getting stuck into Oscar in Melbourne next year for taking Daniel’s spot. There’s always going to be that element, the poor petals hiding in their mother’s basement who’ve never done anything except criticise from behind their keyboards.
At the end of the day if Oscar goes well, they’ll be the first to come out and say, ‘Good move, I always thought that was the right thing to do.’
The genuine fans know that Mark and Oscar have done nothing that any other driver wouldn’t have done, nationality has nothing to do with it.
One thing’s for sure, it’s going to make for a fascinating second half of the season.
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