How Alonso and Piastri may spell the end for Ricciardo

Silly season has started with a bang, and the explosive developments at Alpine could end up having serious, potentially career-ending repercussions for another popular figure on the grid, the Honey Badger himself, Daniel Ricciardo.

Oscar Piastri (AUS) Alpine F1 Team Reserve Driver and Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) McLaren. 10.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Race

When the teams were packing up in Hungary on Sunday evening, the Alpine squad had cause to be heading into the summer holidays in an upbeat mood. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon had just achieved a double points finish to maintain the team's slender lead over McLaren in the constructors championship. Contract extension negotiations were still ticking over with Alonso, and if they fell through then no problem, they had the hottest rising star in years - reserve driver Oscar Piastri - ready and able to step in. Team bosses Laurent Rossi and Otmar Szafnauer would be justified in looking forward to a relaxing few weeks off, feet up by the pool and cocktails in hand.

And then in 48 hours, that calm unravelled with shocking speed. First there was the out-of-the-blue announcement that Alonso had actually signed for Aston Martin when just the day before he'd told Szafnauer that this wasn't on the cards. The news shocked everyone, as up to then it looked like the choice for Alonso was between another year at Alpine or following Sebastian Vettel into retirement. After all, he's already by some margin the oldest driver on the grid at 41, six years more than Vettel. But we obviously completely underestimated his appetite and passion for F1, as he's actually signed a multi-year deal with a big pay packet attached - presumably neither of which were forthcoming at Alpine, which is why he ended up jumping ship.

Alpine were clearly caught out by this development, as their stunned response on Tuesday showed. But in one way it solved a problem which was what to do with Piastri. The F2 and F3 champion had already deserved a place on the F1 grid this year, and had been promised by the team that it would happen in 2023 - although not necessarily at Alpine itself. Now it could.

The official press release was finally sent out at 5pm BST and all was well. That is, right until Piastri himself shot back a tweet two hours later saying that the PR had been issued without his knowledge, wasn't correct - and that he wouldn't be joining Alpine next season. This was no mere negotiating tactic from the 21-year-old Australian, it was an emphatic and very public slamming of the door in the team's face.

Alpine obviously believe otherwise, and the contract lawyers are already arriving at Enstone en masse to sort the mess out. But the more interesting aspect at this point is: why would Piastri - after waiting on the sidelines with Alpine for nearly four years - suddenly turn down a race seat that's finally being offered to him on a plate, and burn all his carefully built bridges in the process?

The only reason he and his commercial agent (compatriot and former F1 racer Mark Webber) would do that is because he has secured a deal that they feel is as good as if not better than the one being offered by Alpine. However race seats on the 2023 grid of that calibre are few and far between. Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Haas and Williams all nominally have vacancies but would they really more more appealing than Alpine? All the spots at Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari are already fully booked. In fact arguably the only team of comparable quality is McLaren. But surely they're full up too?