Oscar Piastri looks set to make his much-anticipated Formula 1 debut sooner rather than later as preparations are underway for the 21-year-old Australian to be on the grid for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone from July 1-3.
Piastri is slated to step into the second Williams FW44, replacing Canadian Nicholas Latifi, who is reportedly making his final start with the team at his home race this weekend.
Piastri, the reigning FIA Formula 2 Champion, was slated to make his FP1 debut for Alpine over the British Grand Prix weekend, his likely start with Williams opens the way for another of Alpine’s Junior Academy drivers, Aussie Jack Doohan to make his practice debut at Silverstone.
It has been reported that Piastri has already had a seat fitting at Williams – his fourth team seat fitting in 2022, joining Alpine, McLaren, and Mercedes. Yes, Mercedes!
He looks to being placed at Grove with Williams as part of a complicated deal involving auto giants Mercedes and Nissan-Renault.
After several impressive tests with Alpine, the move will enable Alpine team bosses to evaluate Piastri in a proper racing situation, giving him four races (England, Austria, France, and Hungary), before the month-long summer break, at which time it will decide on two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso’s future.
Alonso is seeking a two-year extension on his current deal, the Spaniard making it clear he wants to continue in F1.
“I don’t want to think about stopping because I feel I’m still better than the others, and until someone comes along and starts doing things I can no longer do with the car, there’s no reason to leave,” Alonso said.
Keeping Alonso would put Alpine in a challenging position regarding Piastri, as the contractual option to keep him expires at the end of June and can only be triggered if the French team guarantees the young Australian a racing seat for 2023 and beyond.
Piastri’s manager, Mark Webber, is believed to have applied considerable pressure on Alpine to guarantee Piastri a complete F1 program next year, with the team having long-term plans for the gifted Australian and not wanting to lose him.
That has led Rossi to start negotiating a deal with Webber that will keep Piastri as an Alpine driver, allowing the French team to lend him to another team, possibly for several years, depending on its Alonso decision.
Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi told AUTO ACTION at the Australian Grand Prix: “Oscar is something else.
“He is one of the future champions of Formula 1. He is extremely smart and mature for his age. Like extremely smart!
“I would love to have Oscar as my driver for the future of Alpine F1, and that is what we are working towards.”
Piastri is in demand as reserve driver, for McLaren he undertook complete race preparation for Monaco including extensive sim work, in case Lando Norris was too unwell with his much-publicised bout of tonsillitis.
Canadian Latifi has been under increasing pressure following a string of poor performances this season, made worse when compared to his teammate Alex Albon who has scored points in several races, while Latifi remains on zero.
Latifi has struggled more than in his first two F1 seasons, running way off Albon’s pace and crashing with alarming regularity.
Williams Team Principal Jost Capito believes the situation is “a consequence of what happened after last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when he was subjected to a lot of online abuse, including some very disturbing death threats.”
This is a head game; [Latifi] needs to feel comfortable and confident, so we’re doing everything we can to put him back in the right mindset,” Capito said recently.
The potential drive at Williams comes with complications for Alpine and Mercedes, as Latifi brings considerable funding to the struggling team.
Even if the Canadian is linked to the Williams owners (his mother’s family is reportedly part of the group of investors behind Dorilton Capital), Capito believes it’s in the team’s best interests to have a strong driving pairing.
It could also be that Mercedes is offering a reduced-cost engine program to Williams to get Piastri into an F1 car.
While on the surface, that seems a ridiculous suggestion, it goes back to a complicated deal between the two automotive giants in Renault and Mercedes that saw Renault engined/ Nissan Navara’s pick-ups re-engineered as Mercedes utes, the X class.
That deal was cancelled by Mercedes last year, which soured relations between the two auto giants, and this could be a small way to calm the waters.
Before any announcement, Piastri will participate in a two-day test at Silverstone, jumping behind the wheel of the A521 beginning tonight as part of his reserve driver role with the Enstone squad and in preparation for the previously targeted 2023 spot on the F1 grid.
The British Grand Prix could mark a piece of history, if Jack Doohan and Piastri do appear in FP1, it will be the first time since 1977 that three Australians have been on track during a Formula 1 session.
Ironically the last time was at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix and saw Alan Jones (Shadow), Vern Schuppan (Surtees) and little-known Australian driver Brian McGuire, take to the track in an attempt to qualify for the race.
McGuire was driving a privately entered Williams FW04, but failed to qualify for the Grand Prix.
Sadly the Victorian passed away only a few weeks later when he was fatally injured in Formula Libra practice crash at Brands Hatch.
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