There will be no on-track action to speculate, bet, report, or watch until Formula 1’s annual August summer break concludes and the F1 world reconvenes in the legendary Spa-Francorchamps Circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, there will not be a Formula 1 car on track until August 26th.
Initially, I had designated this article as a retrospective on the Formula 1 career of 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who announced his retirement before the Hungarian Grand Prix. You’ll be able to read about Seb’s successful and (at times) turbulent Formula 1 tenure in due time. Why?
Because the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner threw a grenade into the F1 Driver Market on the first day of summer break, initiating a crazy and almost unbelievable sequence of events, with an undetermined outcome (as of publication).
Welcome to Silly Season 2022! Drinks are on the left, snacks to the right, take a seat because you are in for a ride in just this recap alone.
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Silly Season? Please Explain.
So, you may be asking “why do they call it silly season?” And that is a good question. Undoubtedly, once everything from 2022 has been laid on the table, you’ll not only know the answer but will be astonished at how silly the 2022 “Silly Season” actually has been. And we’re less than a week into the Summer Break.
Simply put, the Formula 1 summer break got the name “Silly Season” because this is when the driver market goes bonkers for the next season. Some teams (Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari) have their tandems locked up and both seats occupied for the foreseeable future. Other teams, as you’re about to learn, scramble amidst wild rumors to secure the best driver line-up possible. Wild rumors? Yes, there are always a few crazy rumors.
Turning up the Drama
For new F1 fans brought to the sport by Netflix’s docudrama Drive to Survive, welcome to the craziest start to “Silly Season” in quite some time. What will be interesting is how Drive to Survive craft the narrative and make silly season as dramatic as possible in season 5. They have the material, it’s a matter of how they craft the season so far to create a protagonist and antagonist from a chaotic scene.
Long-time F1 fans and Drive to Survive viewers know that certain events and perceived timelines were fabricated in the episode centered on Mercedes’ choice between George Russell and Valtteri Bottas.
The Perfect Person to Kickstart Silly Season (at least for us here at Knupsports)
And at the center of 2022’s “Silly Season”, unbelievably, is the enduring legend and star of Knupsports Formula 1 coverage, Fernando Alonso. It’s as if Alonso is a reader of our coverage and felt slighted by being left out of the KnupSports Hungarian Grand Prix review, in favor of Nicholas Latifi.
The Wiley Ol’ Campaigner certainly made up for a disappointing and uneventful weekend at the Hungaroring mere hours after leaving the track.
Speaking of Alonso’s weekend, we’re going to need to dig in because our series of events begin before F1’s summer shutdown began.
The Hero Can’t Win in Every Chapter of the Story.
It was at the Hungaroring in 2021 where Alonso was the ultimate team player, holding Lewis Hamilton back long enough to help Esteban Ocon earn his first Grand Prix win. Things were not the same for Alpine during the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix. We were reminded that Alonso has never been shy about making his thoughts and feelings known, especially over the radio.
Ocon and Alonso qualified 5th and sixth respectively. However, as Alonso made a move toward the inside line of turn one, Ocon darted in front of the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner, whose radio message started with the phrase “never in my career…” For a 41-year-old Formula 1 legend who holds the record for most laps and miles driven in a Formula 1 car, the words “ entire career” hold serious weight.
Alpine was aiming to make a one-stop strategy work when it was clear that the hard compound was not a tire to race on. Alonso and Ocon battled on the track and were both overtaken – at the same time – by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. Alonso slipped down the order finishing 8th, while Ocon finished 9th. Clearly, the Hungarian Grand Prix was a rough day at the office for our embattled hero.
But we don’t call him the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner for no reason in particular, and the hero of the story usually overcomes the obstacles and rough patches to succeed. The Hungarian Grand Prix was marginally successful, but a rough chapter in the 2022 section of the legend of Fernando Alonso.
Cue the Grenade
No one, save for the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner, could have foreseen the grenade Alonso launched into the F1 paddock hours after leaving Hungary, likely with the characteristic sly grin on his face. Because, in the end, the Hero usually wins. To the readers following our F1 coverage and (likely) Alonso himself, the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner is the hero and growing legend of the F1 narrative.
Much like the rest of the world, Alpine was floored and learned that their lead driver had signed a multi-year contract departing for greener pastures when Aston Martin announced Alonso’s signing.
Alpine and Alonso were close on a deal for a return, however, Alpine wanted a 1-year contract, with a second-year option based on performance. Alonso wanted – and frankly earned through on-track merit – a two-year contract extension.
Once Vettel had announced his retirement, Lawrence Stroll and Aston Martin acted quickly and got the best driver (ever?) on the market, giving Alonso the two-year contract and top driver pay he commands. Like a thief in the night with that sly grin, Alonso and Stroll conspired to drop a bomb on the F1 paddock and send the driver market, F1 media, and social media into chaos.
From Bad To Worse For Alpine
Oscar Piastri is the reigning Formula 2 World Champion and is currently serving as Alpine’s reserve driver. Piastri is the most talented and highly touted driver not in a Formula 1 seat.
Before Alonso got what he wanted from Aston Martin, Piastri was rumored to have a seat next to Alex Albon at Williams, in a similar driver-on-loan situation Williams has with Red Bull and Albon. Once Alonso pulled the pin, launched the grenade, and sauntered into a vacation, Alpine worked quickly to mitigate the damage from the fallout.
Alpine did what they should have done: they declared Piastri was going to get Alonso’s now empty seat for 2023. Shortly after Piastri unequivocally reject Alpine, stating he would not be driving for the Alpine in 2023.
That’s right a highly touted, rookie driver who has never appeared in an official Formula 1 session outright rejected a seat in Formula 1 given to him by the team that has invested in his recent development. The same team Piastri won the Formula 2 World Drivers Championship with as a junior driver.
Not even Alonso could have seen this collateral damage in the fallout coming.
Williams moved quickly, securing Albon for two more years, with Albon issuing a satirical mimicry of Piastri’s Alpine rejection statement to confirm his return to Williams. Piastri is now the subject of a myriad of online speculation linking him to a highly unlikely spot in Red Bull’s driver pool (which includes Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon, Yuki Tsunoda, and a roster of junior development drivers that will never come close to Piastri on the track.
Everyone, Please Welcome McLaren to the Silly Season Shenanigans.
McLaren has their hands in a few contractual-based shenanigans right now. Alonso might have thrown the grenade, but McLaren has been stirring the driver market mix all season long. Seemingly, as long as Ricciardo has struggled with McLaren, there have been rumors of him being replaced.
Right now, Piastri’s most likely destination is McLaren to replace Ricciardo. Yes, the same McLaren Racing outfit that is in a contractual battle over reigning IndyCar Champion Alex Palou. McLaren’s legal staff will be earning their compensation by litigating the Palou and Piastri contract disputes and drafting the contract to buy Ricciardo out of the last year of his McLaren deal.
Leaving Ricciardo as the best available option for the Alpine-Renault outfit he spurned for McLaren for the 2021 season. However, Ricciardo holds the power and will receive a significant payout to open a seat with the McLaren F1 team.
Up Next: The Celebration of Sebastian Vettel…. Maybe
Up next in KnupSports Formula 1 coverage is our retrospective celebration of Sebastian Vettel’s career in Formula 1. We’ll be dropping that article on Monday. That is unless Silly Season provides us with more news and chaos. While the F1 world is currently in a state of flux, one thing remains constant in F1: Fernando Alonso is the hero of the story, will win in the end, and we are assured of two more seasons of Alonso on the grid and in the paddock.
After the most recent additions to his ever-growing legend, we are excited to see what’s next in the legend of the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner.