ZANDVOORT, Netherlands -- Media day for the Dutch Grand Prix on Thursday was dominated by talk around the remaining seats on the 2023 grid, with Pierre Gasly increasingly looking like a major player in the driver market.
F1's wait for clarification on whether Alpine or McLaren has a valid contract for Oscar Piastri's services in 2023 ended on Friday -- he will race at McLaren next year.
Alpine, Haas and Williams all have one seat to fill for next year.
Alpine's negotiations with other drivers was delayed by the wait for clarification and that in turn delayed decisions for the other teams.
Gasly has become a fascinating part of this whole equation. Although he has a central Red Bull contract for 2023, which would keep him at AlphaTauri for another season, his place at the team is not ironclad. Christian Horner and Red Bull management do not see Gasly ever returning to the senior team and it is understood he will be allowed to leave if a team matches their asking price to buy him out of the contract.
Gasly leaving would suit all parties, with American IndyCar driver Colton Herta being linked with a move to AlphaTauri should a seat become available. There are obvious benefits to a team that brings an American into the sport right now given its booming popularity stateside, although Herta does not currently have the 40 FIA super-licence points required to race in F1 and cannot accumulate enough by the end of the season. According to Motorsport.com, the FIA is reviewing Herta's super-licence credentials, with rules and exceptions around COVID-disrupted seasons potentially giving him a way in.
For Gasly, going elsewhere feels like his best option. Carlos Sainz's career has thrived since he broke free of the Red Bull driver programme and Alex Albon is delivering stellar performances since getting a second chance with Williams -- Gasly's career prospects would look a lot better if he could do the same and forge his own path.
One obvious roadblock could be Gasly's frosty relationship with old childhood friend and fellow Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who would be his teammate at Alpine.
Gasly commented about this Thursday, saying: "Obviously known each other for years, have a lot of respect for each other as drivers, that has been always the case. He's a really fast driver and I think we both respect that."
Ocon made his feelings on a desired teammate clear Thursday in the news conference, saying his choice would be his friend Mick Schumacher.
"People know that my choice if I had anything to say would be Mick, if he doesn't have anything lined up for next year," Ocon said.
"He's a good friend of mine, first of all. If I can help on that, that's no problem. I think he has shown talents in the junior categories as well, he's been very fast.
"Sometimes in Formula One it's not easy to perform with a car that's a bit on the back foot. I had that when I started in F1. He's a great guy and he could perform very well if he had a competitive car and at the moment the Alpine is competitive."
Schumacher appears to be on the way out from Haas, having underwhelmed and accumulated a costly repair bill in his 18 months with the team. Schumacher, the son of seven-time world champion Michael, will also reportedly lose his place in the Ferrari academy at the end of the season. While that could be damaging to his career prospects, it would free him up to make a move to Alpine, although it is fair to ask whether the performances he's shown in F1 warrant a second opportunity at a competitive midfield team.
Did a Ferrari video accidentally reveal Gasly's plans?
In his media duties ahead of this weekend's Dutch Grand Prix, Gasly clarified something that gained traction across social media Thursday. A Belgian Grand Prix review video posted by Ferrari featured a short scene with Gasly walking with Charles Leclerc and George Russell to the prerace drivers' parade.
In it, Gasly is clearly heard saying, "I'm still sorting the final details of the contract," which many speculated could have been an off-the-cuff remark about an Alpine deal. However, Russell can also be heard saying "married" shortly beforehand, which Gasly claimed was the real context of the discussion.
When asked by ESPN about the comment in the video, Gasly laughed and said: "If you guys would have any idea the subject we were talking about, you would probably laugh. Definitely, I can guarantee you it was nothing about Formula One."
He added: "George was talking about marriage, or wedding things, so you can figure out it wasn't F1-related."
What about Daniel Ricciardo?
When the Piastri saga first unravelled in the summer break Daniel Ricciardo appeared to be the most logical option for Alpine, having raced for the team in 2019 and 2020. However, this is not quite the simple solution it appears to be on paper.
Ricciardo announced his departure from Renault to McLaren (for 2021) in May 2020, in the middle of lockdown and before F1's shortened 2020 season had even started. It is understood Renault CEO Luca de Meo is still frustrated at how that situation played out and that there is a feeling within Alpine that Ricciardo did not talk about the team in glowing terms, despite scoring two podiums and finishing fifth overall that season.
Ricciardo is open to a return, knowing that, should he rediscover his old form, an Alpine car would likely give him the chance to fight McLaren on track in 2023. However, speaking Thursday, it was also clear he is increasingly open to the idea of a sabbatical if it meant returning the following year, given the limited realistic options available at this point.
The eight-time race winner did not rule out the option of being a reserve driver for a team next season, which might open up his options considerably for 2024. Even with his recent struggles for form, Ricciardo would be an incredible backup for a team to call on, and that situation could potentially give him a foot in the door at a team like Mercedes or Ferrari. Notably, Lewis Hamilton is yet to sign a deal beyond 2023 with Mercedes.
It is hard to read Ricciardo's mood at the moment. He is doing a good job of putting a brave face on what is an awkward and uncomfortable situation. The recent career turnaround of Sergio Perez should give Ricciardo some hope that he can get himself back to the front end of the grid with the right move. Perez, who was one of the drivers to reach out to the Australian after his split from McLaren was confirmed, appeared to be on the verge of leaving F1 at the end of 2020, only to land a seat with a Red Bull team now fighting for victories every week.
Haas and Williams
Haas boss Guenther Steiner is in no rush to confirm who will be Kevin Magnussen's teammate next year, with a name like Ricciardo's still on the market.
"We monitor the situation with Mick and see what is happening," Steiner said Thursday. "We are not in a hurry -- why do we need to decide now anyway? If we decide now and make the wrong decision we regret it."
Haas is giving Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi two practice appearances in Monza and Austin, seen by many as the team preparing him for a potential race role with the team in 2023. Giovinazzi, who raced with Alfa Romeo for three seasons, isn't the most inspiring option but he would represent a steady and reliable hand for the team.
Williams have been even quieter about their plans for Nicholas Latifi's seat. Formula E driver Nyck de Vries is a candidate, as is American Formula 2 driver Logan Sargeant, who won a race in the feeder series earlier this year. Although the team is excited by Sargeant's potential, there are concerns that an immediate elevation might be too much too soon for the Floridian driver, who will compete in first practice for the team at the U.S. Grand Prix in October. That appearance would seem to be the perfect time to announce Sargeant for 2023 if that is the direction the team goes.