Nine-time grand prix winner Mark Webber says Australia’s Oscar Piastri remains a chance of securing the last spot on the Formula One grid for 2022.
The 20-year-old is the hottest prospect in the sport at the moment. Having won the F3 championship in 2020 as a rookie, he’s on track to repeat the feat in F2 this year, holding a 36-point lead with six races remaining.
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A championship win would see him join current F1 stars George Russell and Charles Leclerc as the only drivers to win both junior categories as a rookie.
But his road to F1 has been far from smooth, with just one spot on the grid remaining for 2022, with Alfa Romeo yet to confirm the identity of Valtteri Bottas’ teammate.
Piastri, who is part of the Alpine academy, told Wide World of Sports recently that he didn’t expect to be in the running for the Alfa Romeo drive, instead focusing his energy on securing a role as Alpine’s test and reserve driver, with a view to replacing Fernando Alonso in the race team in 2023.
That, however, is not certain, with Alonso showing no signs of wanting to retire, even though he’ll turn 41 midway through next season.
Speaking to the F1 Nation podcast, Webber, who manages Piastri, hinted at a surprise move for 2022.
“Well, mate, let’s see, it’s going to be an interesting few months, nothing is totally sorted yet, there’s still a little bit of shenanigans to be sorted out, and that could fall in his favour,” he said.
Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur said at last week’s Turkish Grand Prix that taking Piastri wouldn’t make sense, given he’s a member of the Alpine Academy. However, China’s Guanyu Zhou, who is the favourite to get the drive, is also in the same program with Piastri.
The waters were further muddied last week by reports former IndyCar champion Michael Andretti is considering purchasing a controlling stake in Alfa Romeo.
“The Alfa seat is moving round, we see now Andretti floating around in terms of maybe investment – so, wow,” Webber said.
“It’s an interesting last seat, mate, in terms of dynamic, but does he [Piastri] deserve to be in F1? Absolutely. We all know that.
“It’s not a question of if but when.”
“Alpine are very, very keen on him, Alpine do not want him to slip through their fingers to say the least, they’re sort of looking to try to re-engage and commit to the future.
“It’s not done yet but they’re trying very, very hard to keep Oscar happy for the future, and that’s something that we’re going through as we speak.”
Webber pointed out that every F1 team wanted a young, quick driver with 50 races under his belt, with most being reluctant to take on a rookie and give him a season or two to find his feet.
“F1’s not a finishing school, you have to arrive there as the best product you can possibly be and then start contributing straight away to the team’s performance,” he said.
“And that’s something which I believe Oscar will absolutely do.
“The more heat you put on, the deeper water you put him in, the more laptops you put around him, the more people, he just starts to soak it up. And some drivers go the other way – junior categories, they like it, but when you start to put the heat on then they don’t like it.”
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