Every year, there are losers in the Formula 1 driver market merry-go-round.
The so-called “silly season” starts earlier and earlier each year. For the young drivers who then have to wait and wait and wait to be able to realise their dream of reaching the pinnacle of motorsport, only for it to mostly come to nought, is more than frustrating. Some never recover.
For others, the opportunity only comes around once. Some do get lucky and get two stabs at it (case in point, Williams’ signing of F1 returnee Alexander Albon). Despite there being a much wider world of motorsport out there, there is undoubtedly a twinge of sadness to see a real talent miss out on a Formula 1 career.
Formula 2 stand out Oscar Piastri is one such driver that looks set to miss out on a seat in Formula 1 next year. That’s not to say his opportunity won’t come in the future, but his career résumé is one that should require respect, but first and foremost, attention from current leading F1 teams.
That being said, Alpine (or Renault as it was then) did notice something in the Melbourne-born racer, and signed him to its academy in 2020, prior to his title success in that year’s FIA Formula 3 series. But there doesn’t appear to be an opening at the Alpine team anytime soon. Esteban Ocon is tied down for the next handful of years, and as long as Fernando Alonso keeps performing the way he does now, why would a team wish to be rid of him and his experience, trading it all in for an unproven (purely in F1 terms) newcomer?
Aside from the open seats at Aston Martin, which are expected to be filled by Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel next year, there is still an opening at Alfa Romeo – a seat that perhaps somewhat painfully for Piastri has his fellow Alpine academy member Guanyu Zhou (and his vast financial backing) linked to it.
The young Australian, astutely guided by ex-Red Bull WDC runner-up Mark Webber, is currently leading quite a stacked field of talent in the FIA Formula 2 championship, despite being in his rookie year. And yet, there is little to no public conversations placing him in a Formula 1 seat for 2022, despite the persistent efforts of Webber and his connections.
But with just 20 seats currently available on the Formula 1 grid, it’s simply impossible to fit in all the drivers that show the promise of being a successful F1 driver. One can’t also wish for Alpine simply to conjure up a ‘B team’ to fit their talented juniors – money as tight as it is in the sport, plus the financial uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, going down such a route would never play well with institutional shareholders, no matter how it could be spun.
And it’s a great shame too, when there is seemingly an avalanche of talented youngsters coming through, that those who came before may be forced to miss out. There’s very little stopping someone from turning up in Formula 2 or Formula 3 next year and becoming the next big thing, forcing Piastri and others even further down the queue for a Formula 1 drive. The momentum that Piastri has right now will eventually cease.
There seemed to be an element of both frustration and acceptance recently when he spoke about his future, and how his career thus far has all but displayed that he is capable of a drive in the top series.
“I’ll be honest, the chances [of reaching F1 next year] are very slim,” Piastri said. “But for my own sake, I don’t want to give up hope yet, I still want to make a statement on the track. It’s been a tough few weeks, watching all of those seats fill up, but there’s still that one left. Alfa have all the time in the world to decide who they want to put in. I think I’ve done a good job of putting myself in a pretty prime position, I’ve won two championships in a row and leading a third.
“We’re still only halfway through this F2 year 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 played out, because I really don’t know what more I could’ve done. It’s been a pretty tough few weeks, watching everything unfold and not really be involved at all, given the position that I’m in. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. I think it is a case of bad timing.”
I’m sure there are drivers who, if they read what Piastri has to say, would nod their head in an understanding manner. Very few make it to Formula 1 and that’s a fact of life. And sometimes, those arguably less deserving get the call up ahead of the driver with more racing IQ and raw pace. As Oscar himself said, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
This opinion article originally appeared in issue 431 of our weekly digital motorsport magazine, Motorsport Monday. Completely free to read with no sign-up necessary, Motorsport Monday is published every Monday morning and is packed full of motorsport content. Check out the latest issue here.