Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Max Verstappen on His Way to 2nd Title; Alpine a Confused Organization

This weekend, Formula 1 heads to the Netherlands for what is the second stop on the Max Verstappen home race tour. Born in Belgium but “raised” Dutch, this weekend and the previous serve as complements to his dual nationality. If the Dutch Grand Prix treats him as hospitably as the Belgium race did, then Verstappen will continue his march to a second championship in steady and dominant fashion.

Consider that with eight races left on the calendar, Verstappen could conceivably clinch the title in four races at the Japanese GP. That scenario plays out with Verstappen winning the next four races (certainly a possibility) as Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc don’t grab the best points offerings they can. From a computational standpoint, that is the best case playing out.

The more realistic prospect is Verstappen has to wait another week and celebrates the championship just outside Austin, Texas. The reality of 2022 is that Verstappen is very much on his way to becoming a double champion unless the wheels fall off his Red Bull for the next five races. The likelihood of such results are minimal – only Ferrari would be able to pull off such a meltdown.

Ferrari are, however, the very reason Verstappen may have to wait an extra race or two because every so often, the Prancing Horse gets its collective mind together, putting together a brilliant race weekend while using all the speed they have developed in this yearʻs car to exit with a win. In a bit of a twist of fate to Verstappen, the Dutch GP looks like it may be going in Ferrariʻs favor. Although, with qualifying yet to happen, thereʻs still reason to believe that Ferrari will somehow pull a Ferrari.

Odds & Sods

– The big news coming from the Dutch GP has nothing to do with the frontrunners but rather with teams fighting for fourth in the Constructorʻs Standings.  McLaren had been holding down the position until recently when Alpine scored well last weekend and started to pull ahead to the margin of 20 points over their rival. Ahead of the weekend, Alpine seemed sure to continue on their way.

The news that Oscar Piastri would be freed from Alpine and would be joining McLaren for 2023 shook up the identities of both teams. With the news coming Friday that Piastri was not bound to Alpine and that his contract was good with McLaren, there is reason to believe morale might be running high with the papaya-colored group as they can look forward to working with the 2021 F2 champion next year.

See also
Oscar Piastri Will Drive for McLaren in 2023

By all accounts, Piastri is considered a canʻt-miss prospect and one, who coupled with Lando Norris, should set up McLaren with a dynamic driving duo for years to come (as long as the team keeps the two drivers from evolving into bitter rivals). With McLaren continuing to put money into its operations while also benefitting from a salary cap for development and enjoying the use of Mercedes power units, there are reasons to feel the team could find its way to the front of the grid again in the near future.

On the flip side, Alpine looks like an organization struggling to find an identity and a place where two drivers have both begged off any decision to remain with the team. Piastri spurred the organization which he had been working for the past two-plus years to join McLaren. Most drivers feel obliged and/or obligated to stay with the team that has backed them AND is also offering them a seat on the grid. Instead, Piastri had found enough of a reason to bolt that he did so after the team had announced him as their driver for 2023.

Alpineʻs public announcement botched its ability to keep Fernando Alonso with the team for next year. With Esteban Ocon firmly entrenched for the next couple of years, the second seat at Alpine became the big question mark. Piastri seemed to be the driver slated for it for 2023, which comes as a bit of a curious move considering that Alonso was rumored to be re-signing with the team.

Here is how the whole situation unraveled for Alpine. Even though Piastri and his management had informed Alpine he would not, in fact, be returning to work with the French team, Alpine still made the announcement that Piastri was on board. When Piastri disputed this fact, Alpine started to look foolish.

Piastri has now not only secured his new position with McLaren but given insight into Alpineʻs poor management. Perhaps the overlooked element of the story is how Alonso has painted his dealings with Alpine.

With Piastri out, Alpine turned its focus on to keeping Alonso but wanted to do so on a contract that focused on next year and then with options. Alonso did not want to be relegated to lame duck status and walked away; that may even be stating the departure as polite. The overlooked element of this latter part of the story is team principal Otmar Szafnauer was not even involved in the discussions to keep Alonso.

Such a revelation seems minimal but says more about how the team is being run and how confused and troubled Alpine may be rather than anything about Alonso seeking to leave. Stated simply, Alpine is showing it lacks clear structure and these faux pas are exactly the things that top teams do not show the world.

Now, Alpine is seeking to fill the second seat for a third time and will no longer be finding itself able to land the top talents that it has already seen walk away.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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