Australia’s Oscar Piastri concedes he won’t be on the Formula One grid in 2022, despite the very real possibility he’ll emulate Charles Leclerc and George Russell by winning the F3 and F2 titles in consecutive years.
Piastri, who won last year’s F3 championship, has a 15-point lead in F2 with nine races remaining, after scoring his second win of the season at Monza on Sunday, just hours before Daniel Ricciardo’s victory.
A member of the Alpine Academy, his path to F1 with that team has been blocked by the fact both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon are already under contract for 2022.
Unlike Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, Alpine doesn’t have a recognised link to another F1 team, meaning there’s no obvious route for their young drivers.
There’s one spot left in F1 for 2022, with Alfa Romeo yet to confirm Valtteri Bottas’ teammate, although it’s widely tipped that China’s Guanyu Zhou, currently second in the F2 championship, will get the drive.
Zhou is believed to have a $50m war chest to buy the drive, with F1 keen to break into the Chinese market.
Piastri told Wide World of Sports that he’s resigned to the fact he won’t be in F1 next year.
“I’m not really in the frame at Alfa Romeo, to be blunt,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be me. I don’t really know much about it, which is a fair indication that I’m not really in contention.
“Being with Alpine, there’s no engine link with Alfa Romeo at all, so it’s not a conventional route to that seat.
“I’d be very happily surprised if I got the drive, but I’m not confident.”
Not only is Piastri in line to win both F1 support categories in consecutive seasons, he also won Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019, giving him the chance of three titles in three years.
It’s that record that he’ll have to fall back on if he’s to land an F1 seat in 2023.
“Regardless of where I finish this year it doesn’t look like I’ll be on the F1 grid next year, but if I have three championships in three years on my resume, well that looks pretty good,” he explained.
“It would be very satisfying and it should prove that I can bring plenty to the table for an F1 team in the future.
“It’s a bit of an unfortunate situation, but I’m not the first one it’s happened to and I won’t be the last.
“But it’s a bit annoying.”
F2 rules prevent the champion from returning to the category, meaning if the 20-year-old wraps up the title this year, he’s facing the prospect of a year out of the sport while he looks for an F1 drive in 2023.
One option would be to land a role as a third driver for an F1 team, with the possibility of a few appearances in F1 practice sessions through the season.
But while one year in the pitlane is something he can handle, a longer stint out of the car doesn’t appeal to the Melburnian.
“There hasn’t been any discussion about next year just yet, but looking at how things have unfolded I think the most realistic option is try to win F2 this year and then become the reserve driver for an F1 team next year,” Piastri said.
“The logical step would be to get the reserve driver role at Alpine, and then obviously target an F1 seat in 2023.
“If I do have to spend 2022 out of the sport, I’d be reasonably OK with that, but if it looked like two years out there’d be some pretty heavy discussions about the best way forward.
“Two years out is certainly not ideal, and if it got to that stage, we’d have to look at our options.”
What’s clear is that Piastri won’t be backing off in his attempt to win the F2 title, even if in doing so he condemns himself to a year out of the sport.
“I’m certainly not going to tank the F2 championship just so I can race again next year, that would be pretty stupid. There’s all kinds of things wrong with that idea,” he said.
“What happens next year doesn’t change what I’m trying to do this year.”
Piastri’s manager, former grand prix winner Mark Webber, recently told Wide World of Sports that Alpine had been caught out by how quickly Piastri had progressed up the motorsport ladder.
Just 18 months ago he hadn’t even started an F3 race, now he’s being talked about as a once-in-a-generation talent.
“I think I’ve probably caught myself out with how it’s been going, and it’s probably caught Alpine out a bit as well,” Piastri agreed.
“It’s given them a bit of a headache with the current situation, it’s a nice problem to have, but a headache nonetheless.”
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