The Contract Recognition Board’s ruling in the Oscar Piastri McLaren vs Alpine case has detailed how numerous failings on the latter’s behalf led to Piastri looking elsewhere for a Formula 1 race seat.
The CRB’s unanimous ruling was announced on Friday, upholding McLaren’s claim to the 2021 Formula 2 champion on a two-year deal to partner Lando Norris starting from the 2023 campaign.
Alpine have accepted the ruling and will not appeal the decision having lost a driver it has poured time and resource into developing for an F1 race seat.
However, as RacingNews365 wrote in August, Piastri had never signed a document with Alpine for a 2023 race seat in F1, which has been confirmed by the CRB ruling.
Two contracts for Piastri
In the ruling, arbitrators Ian Hunter QC, Stefano Azzali, Prof. Dr Klaus Peter Berger and Matthieu de Boisseson all found that Alpine had separate contracts for Piastri for his 2022 reserve driver duties and a potential ’23 race seat, but repeated missed deadlines frustrating his manager, Mark Webber.
Alpine believed a 2022/23 ‘Terms Sheet’ dated in November 2021 constituted a “valid contract between Piastri and Alpine for the purposes of a race driver role in the 2023 and 2024 F1 seasons,” RacingNews365.com understands.
However, this was only the “intended” starting point for negotiations, with the Piastri camp being informed by Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi that contracts would be exchanged within 10 business days of 15th November 2021.
This deadline came and went with Webber growing frustrated by Alpine not sending the documents over, telling Director of Legal Affairs Benedicte Mercer that “there are so many times [I] can tell Mr Piastri and his father that ‘it’s coming'”.
In response to this, Mercer stated that she was “the bottleneck” due to a lack of legal resources at the team.
After nothing happened in January, Mercer wrote to Webber in February 2022 stating that she felt like: “I am in the spin cycle of a washing machine” and that “things should ease off after the launch – which means I can pick things up right where I left off on Oscar’s contract.”
By March 2022, days before the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Piastri did not have a contract with Alpine – either for his 2022 reserve driver duties or a race seat.
The reserve driver draft was sent to the Piastri camp on March 4th, with Alpine hopeful of sending the F1 race seat contract the week after.
Alpine forces Piastri away
This reserve deal was lodged with the CRB on March 14th, but did not feature any extension beyond December 31st for a potential race seat with Alpine.
Piastri received this contract through his lawyers on March 15th, with Mercer stating that this was “an emergency measure” with the season starting just four days later, and no reserve driver agreement in place.
Without a contract in place, Piastri could not be granted a super licence for his reserve position, which Mercer was aware of.
With no other option, she was forced into treating the Terms Sheet of November 2021 as a binding contract, adding the words “legally binding Heads of Terms” to the document. This phrase was not present on the original document sent to Piastri the previous year.
The CRB found that “whether Ms Mercer genuinely believed that the Terms Sheet was legally binding is not for us to say.”
On May 19th, Alpine sent a document to Piastri entitled ‘Oscar Piastri 2023/2026 proposal,’ detailing its F1 plans over a four-year time-span.
The “road map” called for a season at Williams in 2023 with the intention of staying there in 2024, albeit with a break clause on Alpine’s side to recall him for the second season, needing to be activated by July 31st 2023.
For 2025 onwards, Piastri was planned to be at Alpine full-time, meaning he potentially could have had to wait until then to make his race debut with the Enstone-based team.
Such a wait was intolerable for the Piastri camp, who subsequently decided to explore options away from Alpine for a 2023 F1 race seat.
On June 3rd, Piastri signed a “Driving Agreement” with McLaren – dependent on rights to Piastri’s services with other companies being “no longer effective.”
Piastri signed his McLaren race contract on July 4th – the day after the British GP – commencing on January 1st 2023 – the day after Piastri’s reserve driver deal with Alpine for 2022 expires and he becomes a free agent.
The McLaren contract is deemed “valid and binding” whereas Alpine never had anything with Piastri signed post 2022.
Alpine to pay legal costs
The CRB also ruled that Alpine is responsible for the legal costs of all parties involved in the case, including McLaren, Piastri himself and the board members.
The team must pay £229,965.00 to McLaren, £120,086.14 to Piastri with the arbitrators’ fees ranging from £34,000 to £74,400.
An additional £16,000 is required to be paid to cover the CRB interests, meaning Alpine is liable for a total of £530, 467.14 GBP in legal fees, on top of its own costs.