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With Oscar Piastri’s move to McLaren looking like a done deal, Alpine is limited in its driver options.
The main contender for the remaining seat is, of course, Daniel Ricciardo. If it is the case that Piastri is set to usurp Ricciardo’s seat, the older Aussie will have nowhere else to turn if he wishes to remain in F1.
There are naturally other avenues Ricciardo could pursue like Formula E as McLaren are branching into that series next season. Elsewhere, a drive in IndyCar or NASCAR would surely be easy to secure for the eight-time race winner.
If he does decide to call it quits, or simply doesn’t wish to return to Alpine, who else could the team sign?
Alpine currently has four academy drivers on its roster. In F2, Jack Doohan and Olli Caldwell are supported by the team, whilst Caio Collet and Victor Martins drive in F3.
It’s practically unheard of to promote a driver straight from Formula 3 to the top tier of motorsport. In fact, the most recent racer to experience this is Max Verstappen, who went from European F3 to driving for Toro Rosso in 2015.
Martins leads the F3 standings alongside Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar. The Frenchman may be the future of Alpine, but the 21-year-old likely needs some more experience in the lower formulas before this can happen. The same goes for Collet, who is eighth in the standings and benefits from mentoring within the academy.
Following this logic, it is far more possible for an F2 driver to receive a surprise promotion.
Caldwell is unlikely to be considered one of Alpine’s main options – his only points finish has been at the Austrian feature race in July. All in all, this season has been fairly underwhelming for the Brit. However, the same cannot be said for Jack Doohan.
He is the son of MotoGP legend Mick Doohan; he has had an incredibly promising rookie year in the series. The young Aussie has two race wins to his name and makes the most of any opportunities presented to him. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to pull off a Piastri this season (that is, charge to victory in his first year of F2). Doohan is currently ninth in the standings, joint with Red Bull’s Liam Lawson.
Taking a risk
In an ideal world, Doohan would have two seasons in F2 to hone his skills. But with Alpine facing slim pickings for their second seat, he may not have that luxury.
Doohan himself recognises that his future is uncertain. As reported by F1 Feeder Series, he said: “Look at the opportunities that I’ve already been given to date.
“It’s not just Formula 1 and a sole focus on that. Obviously, that [F1] is my current goal and our goal together, but not everyone obviously makes it to Formula 1, so they’re trying to build other areas for drivers to go to.”
Essentially, the team has two options. They can go for an experienced racer like Ricciardo, or even super-sub Nico Hulkenberg. Alternatively, Alpine takes a chance on a rookie or other young driver.
There are F2 contenders further up the standings that could be in with a shot. Felipe Drugovich leads the championship and currently has no connections to any F1 teams. It may be more within Alpine’s comfort zone to stick to their junior drivers, but it would be a tragedy for Drugovich to slip between the cracks.
His nearest rival is Theo Pourchaire, 21 points behind. Everyone knows that the French racer is associated with Sauber, but does he really have a future with them?
With Valtteri Bottas on a multi-year contract and Zhou Guanyu impressing as a rookie, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious in for Pourchaire at Alfa Romeo. Perhaps Alpine could snatch him away from Sauber and nurture him alongside Esteban Ocon. After all, an all-French line-up is a notable USP for the team supported by the French government.
Considering current F1 drivers
Looking at the drivers who are out of a seat at the end of 2022, other candidates could include Mick Schumacher and Zhou Guanyu. Contract talks have supposedly stagnated at Haas, so the German could look elsewhere for an opportunity.
Similarly, Zhou’s deal with Alfa Romeo is yet to be extended. However, his recent comments suggest that Alpine is the last team on his list.
Speaking to Racer.com, Zhou explained his 2021 departure from the Alpine Academy. He said:
“Alfa and Alpine are quite big competitor brands – not just in Formula 1 but in general – so it was not easy to get out of Alpine but I’m very happy that everything worked out well because if I had another year I’d be kind of stuck, the same now with Oscar [Piastri]. So it’s not the best thing for me. I feel like there was an opportunity here so I went for it, and I think it was a very good decision.”
For Alpine, everything rests on whether they can lure Daniel Ricciardo back. He would certainly be the safest and most reliable option, but not necessarily the easiest to sign. It looks like the 2023 grid is going to be an unsettled mess for a while longer.
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