Szafnauer admits possible collusion in Piastri saga


Alpine boss, Otmar Szafnauer admits that Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber may have colluded in creating the saga that has dominated the summer break.

As is widely known, speaking on the Thursday of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, the Spanish two-time world champion insisted that remaining with Alpine was his "priority".

However, just over 72 hours later came the shock news that he was in fact heading to Aston Martin.

The significance of the 'just over' is that by that time Alpine had not only missed out on the deadline by which time they had to agree to the Spaniard's contractual demands but also the deadline by which time they had to agree a deal with Oscar Piastri.

It was at 09:01 on Monday 1st August that Aston Martin announced Alonso as Lance Stroll's teammate for 2023. Just over 8 hours later Alpine announced Piastri's promotion to its second race seat alongside Esteban Ocon, only for the Australian to respond via social media insisting that he would not be driving for the French team.

As with so much in a sport that is measured in thousandths of a second, it would appear that this is all about timing, and with 31 July being the deadline for numerous decisions by the French team, it has been suggested that behind the scenes there was a sharing of information about those deadlines.

For Alonso to have been saying one minute that Alpine was his priority only to announce a move to a rival team four days later suggests the Spaniard was clearly aware of his impending deadline, and it is being suggested that in this he shared vital information with former racer, turned TV pundit, Mark Webber, who is also Piastri's manager.

While Alpine wanted Alonso on a one plus one contract, thereby guaranteeing him a drive in 2023 and an option on 2024, the Spaniard wanted a two plus one deal, with guaranteed drives in 2023 and 2024 and an option on 2025.

At the same time, whilst the clock was ticking on Alonso, so too it was on Piastri, and, unbeknownst to the French team, Webber was already agreeing a deal with McLaren with a view to the 2021 F2 champion replacing countryman Daniel Ricciardo

Though much has been made of Webber's links to (McLaren team boss) Andreas Seidl, courtesy of when they were part of Porsche's WEC team, the real common denominator lies elsewhere.

Alonso is managed by Flavio Briatore, as was Webber for his racing career. Indeed, when the Italian was given a lifetime ban from motorsport for his involvement in Crash-gate, Webber insisted that if he couldn't work with the Italian he wouldn't work with anyone else.

"He was a very good character for our sport, and I'm sure a lot of other people would agree," said the Australian at the time of the ban. "I've had Flavio looking after me for 11 years I have never looked at the contract from the day I signed it, and there's not many other people in the paddock you could say that about. I won't work with anyone else in the future if I can't work with him."

When, in an interview with Spain's El Confidencial - oh, the irony - it was suggested that Alpine may have been naive in its dealings with Alonso and Piastri, given the long-term relationship between two of the key players in the saga, Szafnauer replied: "I have no record of it, but this is Formula One and maybe in a couple of years someone says that they have evidence of shared information, I would not be surprised.

"I always tell everyone that in Formula One you have to act as if everyone knows everything, he added, "that there are no secrets in these things. When you ask someone not to say anything, they act like everyone knows."

Meanwhile, last Thursday, FIA president, Mohammed ben Sulayem took to social media to helpfully advise that... "The FIA's Driver Contract Recognition Board (CRB) was set up to deal with contract priority issues between drivers and F1 teams. That's why we rely on their decision to resolve any conflict."

However, though the CRB's decision is final, Szafnauer has warned that "going to the High Court is over 90 per cent certain". "That's what we'll do," he told Reuters.

And as the scriptwriters at Netflix storyboarded the next move in the saga, fans took to social media also, pointing to a recent post by Briatore on Instagram in which he is shown relaxing with (F1 boss) Stefano Domenicali and Toto Wolff, only for other fans to point to a picture of the flamboyant Italian entertaining Christian Horner, Domenicali, Ben Sulayem and (Liberty CEO) Greg Maffei. He gets around does our Flav.

Meanwhile, in a move likely to add to Daniel Ricciardo's following, and thereby F1's, at the weekend singer Harry Styles was spotted sporting a Daniel Ricciardo T-Shirt.

Speculation that Zak Brown is intending to wear a 3XL BTS Army T-Shirt over the Spa weekend is thought to be merely mischievous.

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Published: 15/08/2022
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