MCLAREN will discover this week whether they can sign Oscar Piastri from Alpine as Daniel Ricciardo’s replacement.
And if they can’t, it could hit them in the pocket.
McLaren have already paid off Australian Ricciardo, 33, to cancel his contract — thought to be half of the £20million he was due to earn next season.
Staggeringly, there were no exit clauses from McLaren, which is most unlike Formula One deals.
These are usually littered with performance-related triggers to allow teams or drivers to seek new contracts elsewhere if either are not delivering.
That alone has sparked some serious questions for the team’s management.
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But they could now face even more scrutiny.
Having jettisoned Ricciardo for below-par performances — despite being the only man to win a race for McLaren since Jenson Button’s 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix triumph — they have pinned their hopes on signing Piastri, a 21-year-old Alpine reserve driver.
And that in itself is a gamble.
Sure, he has an excellent record in the lower formula and won the F 3 and F 2 titles — but he remains unknown in F 1.
However, for all McLaren’s ruthlessness in axeing Ricciardo they have stopped short of confirming Piastri.
Why? Because the matter needs to be resolved by the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board.
They met yesterday and their verdict is expected over the next few days, with both McLaren and Alpine confident of winning.
The CRB usually operates in the background and rarely gets headlines. But of the two most famous cases it has presided over, the driver’s original team have won.
David Coulthard tried to leave Williams for McLaren in 1995 and Jenson Button tried to join Williams from BAR in 2005.
Both British drivers failed in their attempts to break free from their existing contracts.
Should the CRB again side with the driver’s original team — in this case Alpine — then the matter is still not resolved.
The fallout has been bitter, with Piastri told to ‘work from home’ while the contractual matter is resolved.
While the Alpine team would love to have him in the car to replace Fernando Alonso next season, the situation has now become too toxic.
It means the likeliest outcome is Piastri WILL end up driving for McLaren, providing the Woking-based team stump up for his services, allowing Alpine to name their price.
And that is not great business by McLaren, whose finances are already strained.
AUDI REVVED UP
IT WAS great to finally see the not-so-secret news confirming that Audi are coming to Formula One.
They have provisionally struck a deal to provide Sauber with engines for 2026, but expect that soon to be confirmed as a fully-fledged Audi team.
Audi were stunned at just how widespread the news travelled and how quickly.
They now have to get up to speed building that engine division and if they are serious, they should break the bank to sign British engineer Andy Cowell.
He was the man who headed up Mercedes’ engine operation that powered them to 12 titles in six years — the constructors’ and drivers’ championship.
Cowell left Mercedes in 2020 to seek a new challenge and Audi sounds like the perfect opportunity for him.
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