Alpine academy has 'too many good drivers' with no place to go

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Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowksi says that its driver academy is facing a glut of young talent for which it cannot currently provide an access to Formula 1.

Since its inception in 2016 under its Renault guise, the French manufacturer's driver program has supported many junior hopefuls, building its pool of talent over the years.

But it has yet to succeed in bringing a young driver into F1, a shortfall due in part to a lack of available seats at the highest level but also due to Alpine not having an affiliate team towards which it would be able to channel its young guns.

Alpine protégés Oscar Piastri and Guanyou Zhou are currently leading the FIA Formula 2 Championship. While the former has no chance of joining the fray in F1 next season, the latter could make his entry among the elite, but with Alfa Romeo Racing, a move that would deprive Alpine of a return on its investment in the Chinese charger.

Budkowski therefore argues that Alpine needs to reach a compromise between the benefit it can derive from supporting young drivers and allowing them to step up to the next level outside of the Alpine tribe while maintaining a link with the latter.

"We have an academy and we’ve had it for years, and we’ve developed a number of drivers," said Budkowski.

"Now we have drivers successful in the highest category just before Formula 1, it shows that our academy has been good at developing good drivers.

"Unfortunately, if I may use the word, they are coming to maturity at the same time and we have the problem generated by having too many good drivers performing well.

"The success of the academy is also judged by its output, if your academy never gets a driver in Formula 1 then you’ve wasted your time and your money in supporting these drivers, so in one way running a successful academy is getting them to Formula 1.

"On the other hand we’re doing this for ourselves to develop the next drivers we’re going to use at Alpine but at the moment we don’t have a seat free.

"We don’t want to stand in the way of the drivers we’ve helped develop for many years.

"Equally we don’t want to lose them completely from our pool of drivers, so that’s the compromise you have to reach. But it just shows it’s a successful academy we’re running."

While Zhou might have the good fortune of joining the elite next season, Piastri is facing a potential situation where he will have brilliantly fulfilled all expectations, and then some, only to see his career stall at a crucial level.

"I think I’ve done a good job of putting myself in a pretty prime position for an F1 seat," said the 20-year-old Aussie. "I’ve won two championships in a row and I’m leading a third.

"We are still only halfway through, so a lot can still change, but all the moves in F1 are happening now or have already happened.

"It’s a bit disappointing the way it’s kind of played out because I really don’t know what more I could have done.

"And [winning the feature race at Monza] was quite nice to make a statement – I’m still here.

"It’s been a pretty tough few weeks watching everything unfold and not really being involved at all given the position I’m in. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles."

Managed by former F1 driver Mark Webber, Piastri is highly rated by his countryman who underscored how winning the F2 title this year would likely send his protégé to the sidelines for 2022, while finishing second would keep him active next season.

"It probably is just a case of bad timing, but I still want to try and win this championship," said Piastri.

"I’ve had a few suggestions of purposely not winning it to do another year but that’s just silly, and I want to win the championship.

"And if I do win the championship, I’d be pretty annoyed if something at some point in the future didn’t arise from that."

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