Szafnauer: 'No issue' with potential Ricciardo return to Alpine

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Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer says Daniel Ricciardo's recent history with Renault would not be a hindrance to the Aussie's potential return to Enstone in the future.

Alpine's confirmation on Tuesday that reserve driver Oscar Piastri will take over Fernando Alonso's race seat with the French outfit in 2023 was followed by a remarkable rebuttal by the young Aussie.

Not only did Piastri deny that he had committed to Alpine for 2023, the 21-year-old was adamant that he would not be racing with the team next year.

Piastri's firm stance suggests that a move to McLaren, with whom the young gun is rumored to have signed a deal, is in the works.

Such a scenario, if confirmed, would obviously leave Ricciardo as the odd man out just two weeks after the latter reiterated in a public statement on social media his total commitment to McLaren for 2023.

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But could the sudden void at Alpine brought about by Fernando Alonso's unexpected transfer to Aston Martin and by Piastri's brutal withdrawal from the team be filled by Ricciardo?

The Aussie left Renault at the end of 2020 after a two-year stint that proved disappointing for both parties. And Ricciardo's disengagement - announced even before the Covid-delayed 2020 season had gotten underway - did not go down well with former team boss Cyril Abiteboul, while Group Renault chief executive Luca de Mao was reportedly also unimpressed.

However, with Abiteboul no longer at Alpine and with Laurent Rossi now at the helm, Szafanuer's suggests that Ricciardo's past dealings with the team are water under the bridge.

Szafnauer says the team's priority is pairing its 100-race plan to return to the front of the grid with the right drivers.

"I don't think that's an issue at all. I think what we need to focus on is, like I say, the plans that we have for the next 89-88 races," the Alpine team boss told the media, speaking on Tuesday before the day's whirlwind of announcements.

"We've got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us.

"And we put the best driver in next to Esteban [Ocon], so that we can move forward towards what we've been planning."

Asked if Alpine would hold against Piastri the Aussie's talks with McLaren, or even a prospective deal, Szafnauer said it would not be the first time a driver contracts with a team only to end up driving for another.

The American referenced Jenson Button's commitment to Williams for 2003 only to end up at BAR Honda as a case in point.

"I've been around long enough where I've seen this kind of thing actually play out and happen," commented Szafnauer.

"When Jenson signed with Williams and ended up at British American Racing Honda, if you remember those days, there was absolutely no issue.

"I mean, I know Oscar is different from Jenson. Hopefully we don't have to go down that route, anyway.

"But your presumption was, oh, a driver wants to go somewhere else. So hopefully that's not the case.

"But I have seen it where a driver actually signed with another team incorrectly, so had to drive for the team that he initially signed with.

"And it was absolutely no issue. Jenson at the time did a stellar job at BAR, and never ended up at Williams."

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