The imbroglio of Pierre Gasly’s transfer to Alpine is proof that in Formula 1 the worst enemies are able to patch things up around a contract, and even work for each other.
In this complex story, the about-face of the Red Bull clan is a new illustration. It started when Alpine found itself without an immediate solution following the surprise announcement on August 1 of Fernando Alonso’s departure for Aston Martin in 2023. The track of its Australian hopeful, Oscar Piastri, vanished in a mind-blowing misunderstanding under the background of betrayal – he signed for McLaren – the French team went in search of a replacement. The most bankable on the market? The top seller for a reborn brand that has hoisted the blue-white-red flag high? Pierre Gasly of course.
Gasly-Alpine, it would not be cooked (even without Herta in the equation)
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Problem: the winner of the Italian Grand Prix still has a year of contract to honor with AlphaTauri and for Helmut Marko, the recruiter of the Red Bull galaxy pilots, there is a priori no question of releasing him. The Rouennais carries the Faenza team at arm’s length, and no big guns are looking for a steering wheel, except for a Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) in distress.
The 78-year-old Austrian manager even puts things bluntly when we talk to him, for example, about the candidacy of Mick Schumacher, landed by Ferrari and soon by Haas. « He is not one of us and we have our young drivers », cuts the former Formula 1 driver. Decoded: no question of retraining a driver from another sector; whether it’s Ferrari (where Robert Schwarzman is on stand-by), Alpine (McLaren has already siphoned everything off), or Mercedes, whose boss, Toto Wolff, he doesn’t even heartily hate.
Piastri, symptom of risky management of young drivers in F1
Except that, the one who is officially an advisor to the big boss of the energy drink empire, spoke a little quickly. All things considered, he does not consider any youngster from the Red Bul Ring pool worthy of going into Formula 1, even if he has his superlicence. He thus admits to being disappointed by Liam Lawson, Jehan Daruvala and Juri Vips, very unpopular since his racist comment during an online video game, and believes that the Japanese Ayumu Iwasa must do a second season in Formula 2.
Is the track of a replacement for Pierre Gasly definitively closed? Of course not, if it is possible to arrange with Alpine for ten million euros… Yes, it is well known, from a certain sum, everyone listens. And uncle Helmut even opens his mind, and suddenly listens to Formula One.
Because it is at this moment that the track opens Colton Herta, an American officiating in Indycar, pushed by the US promoter of the World Championship, who would see with a good eye the star-spangled banner floating on the starting grid of a 2023 season with three made in America events (Miami, Austin and Las Vegas). Engaged in an F1 training process at McLaren on behalf of Andretti, with a view to a hypothetical arrival of the team in 2024, Herta has seven victories across the Atlantic but only 32 out of the 40 mandatory points on his superlicense. Seduced by the prospect of giving visibility to the Red Bull brand in the United States, Helmut Marko requested a waiver from the FIA. He demanded it at the latest on the eve of the first tests of the Italian Grand Prix and saw nothing coming.
Colton Herta, July 3, 2022 in Lexington
Marko and Wolff ready to take it upon themselves
Monza is not a dead end for Helmut Marko, however, who sees Nyck de Vries land with his CV as long as his arm in the paddock. First at Aston Martin for a ride paid for by his mentor Toto Wolff on Friday, then at Williams on Saturday, replacing Alexander Albon, due to appendicitis. The 27-year-old Dutchman, double world karting champion, Formula 2 champion and first world champion in the history of Formula E, even caused a sensation with his 9th place on Sunday. Praised by his new colleagues, he instantly becomes the most sought-after value on the transfer market.
From there to imagining him as a holder at Williams in 2023, there is only one step. But at AlphaTauri, you have to have a lot of imagination, or ask Toto Wolff to make a huge effort. The manager of Mercedes already wanted to place his Batavian protege at Williams last year, and he was doubled with millions by a Helmut Marko on a mission. The latter aimed to give a second chance to Alexander Albon, just to buy media peace after dropping the Thai from above, at Red Bull. This provokes the ire of Wolff, very unhappy to see that a driver from the enemy team will have access to a whole lot of information on the Mercedes engine.
Helmut Marko (Red Bull)
Credit: Getty Images
Red Bull at Mercedes, and vice versa
But a bit like Oscar Piastri, whose case will definitely set a precedent, Nyck de Vries is sure of his talent and dreams higher than Williams. An AlphaTauri for him? This is what is happening, and even what people who saw the beginner in discussion with Helmut Marko in Graz concluded, L’Equipe reported on Friday evening.
By recovering the protege from Mercedes, Marko would not have exactly the experienced pilot he is looking for to be at AlphaTauri the leader that Yuki Tsunoda will never be. But he will more surely have a false beginner, given the background of the candidate.
Ultimate paradox which seemed to be one more obstacle to such a scenario unimaginable 24 hours ago, Red Bull would therefore take care of perfecting the Formula 1 training of a Mercedes driver. While Albon would go on to be the Austrian home intruder at Williams, a team with close ties to Mercedes. All this to drive Gasly to Alpine, and form an explosive duo with Ocon. Because it’s no secret that the two Normans haven’t liked each other since their karting years. When you are told that around a contract, everything can be arranged…
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