A Formula 1 Season of Musical Chairs

When he announced, on July 28, his decision to retire at the end of the season, Sebastian Vettel could not have foreseen the domino effect that would follow.

Four days later, Aston Martin announced that Fernando Alonso would replace Vettel. What is known as “the silly season” — referring to all the talk that begins in late summer about where drivers will land for the next year — had started.

Vettel, a four-time champion, said his decision to retire had been “a difficult one to take,” which he “spent a lot of time thinking about.”

In contrast, Alonso, a two-time champion, needed little time to decide to leave Alpine to join Aston Martin.

“This team is clearly applying the energy and commitment to win and is therefore one of the most exciting in Formula 1 today,” he said.

Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin waving to the crowd before the Grand Prix of Japan. In July, he announced that he would retire at the end of the season, setting off many moves. Credit…Clive Mason/Getty Images
Aston Martin announced that Fernando Alonso, above, would replace Vettel. Alonso is thrilled with the move, saying the team is “one of the most exciting in Formula 1 today.”Credit…Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Alpine immediately looked to promote its reserve driver, Oscar Piastri of Australia, announcing the move a day later. Oddly, there were no quotes from the driver in the news release about the decision. Two hours after the statement, Piastri, who in 2021 had signed an agreement to become a reserve driver for Alpine, said on Twitter that he would not be driving for the team in 2023.

Over time, it emerged that Piastri had signed a contract this year with McLaren to replace another Australian driver, Daniel Ricciardo.

McLaren announced in August that Ricciardo would leave the team at the end of the season, despite the fact that he had a year remaining on his contract. He has now returned to Red Bull, which he raced for from 2014 to 2018, as a reserve driver.

Formula 1: On and Off the Track

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In September, the Contract Recognition Board, a body in Formula 1 that rules on contractual disputes, decided in favor of McLaren for Piastri. The board said Alpine had no valid contract with Piastri.

Daniel Ricciardo preparing to drive during a practice before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He left McLaren in November, and has returned to Red Bull, which he competed for from 2014 to 2018.Credit…Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Oscar Piastri of Australia, above, was embroiled in a contract dispute this year between Alpine and McLaren. The Contract Recognition Board resolved the matter in McLaren’s favor.Credit…Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Andreas Seidl, who was the McLaren team principal at the time (he is becoming chief executive of the Sauber Group and will be replaced at McLaren by Andrea Stella, the team’s executive director racing), said Alpine “never had a case.”Otmar Szafnauer, the Alpine team principal, said, “We performed on a contract we thought we had.” He said the team accepted the decision of the board.

Piastri said it was an emotional moment when he heard the decision after what was “a pretty stressful time with the C.R.B. hearing.”

“To drive in F1 is something I’ve been working towards since I started racing way back when, 11 or 12 years ago now,” he said.

“So to finally know what my future holds and that it would be in F1, there was firstly relief and then a very, very happy moment.”

Piastri is considered a rising star after a stellar junior career in which he won the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019, the Formula 3 championship the next year and the F2 title in 2021 before becoming the reserve driver for Alpine this year.

“Formula 1 is a big challenge,” Seidl said in an interview before his move to Sauber. “It’s another dimension compared to the junior categories, but at the same time, with everything he has shown, plus with his personality and character, he has everything in order to be successful in Formula 1.

“And we are a team that can provide him with the right environment and with a clear understanding of how big this challenge is in order for him to get started in the right way.”

After Piastri’s move to McLaren, Alpine turned to Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri. Franz Tost, the team principal of AlphaTauri, said he would allow Gasly to leave if he could find another driver, which confirmed that Gasly’s contract would not be extended beyond 2023.

Tost wanted Colton Herta, but the driver from the United States needed the F.I.A. Super License, the document issued by the sport’s governing body that allows drivers to compete in Formula 1.

Despite Herta’s record in IndyCar, including seven wins, he was short of the required 40-points to acquire the license. The F.I.A. decided there would be no special dispensation for him.

AlphaTauri tapped Nyck de Vries for next season. He made his Formula 1 debut at this season’s Italian Grand Prix, finishing ninth.Credit…Clive Mason/Getty Images

AlphaTauri then turned to Nyck de Vries, the 2019 Formula 2 champion and winner of the 2020-21 Formula E title.

De Vries, who was a reserve driver for Mercedes in 2021 and 2022, drove in the first practice sessions in 2022 with the team, as well as for Williams and Aston Martin.

At the final practice session of the Italian Grand Prix, it was announced that Alex Albon of Williams had appendicitis. De Vries stepped in, and after qualifying 13th, scored points on his debut for finishing ninth.

In October, Alpine confirmed it had signed Gasly, while AlphaTauri announced it had recruited de Vries.

The move called into question how Gasly and his teammate Esteban Ocon would get along. Both drivers are from France and were involved in numerous clashes when they were competing in karting.

Szafnauer said “an informed decision” was made after “talking to the entire team,” including Ocon.

“It’s a team sport, and we have to be able to work together and optimize,” Szafnauer said. “Esteban was very supportive, Pierre as well. They’re professionals, they have no issue working together, and hopefully, the friendship will rekindle.”

Gasly said he would have remained with his former team, AlphaTauri, if Alonso had not left Alpine.

“The whole picture completely changed from the moment Fernando left, and then that triggered the whole chaos that followed after that, but in the end, positive chaos for me because it has brought an amazing opportunity,” Gasly said in an interview.

“It’s no secret to anyone that our relationship has had ups and downs over the years,” he said about Ocon. “He is the guy I have known the longest in the paddock, since I was 6 years old. Now we are 26.

Alpine recruited Pierre Gasly, above, after Piastri’s move. Gasly and his new teammate and fellow Frenchman, Esteban Ocon, have known each other since childhood.Credit…Peter Fox/Getty Images

“The kids we were at the time, compared to the young men we are now of 26, with full control of our lives, different responsibilities, we have changed a lot, and since we’ve arrived in F1, we’ve definitely cleared some dust.”

It was no surprise when, in September, Williams confirmed that Nicholas Latifi was leaving after three seasons with the team. He had scored only nine points in 61 Grands Prix.

“I do understand the decision,” Latifi said. “At the end of the day, it’s a results-based industry, performance-based industry, and this year it didn’t work out for many different reasons.”

Williams then announced it would promote Logan Sargeant, a member of its driver academy, to fill the vacancy, pending his obtaining a Super License.

The team had to wait until the final day of the Formula 1 season on Nov. 20 to confirm the move after Sargeant, of the United States, finished fifth in the last Formula 2 race of the year in Abu Dhabi to cross the 40-point threshold. He said “it was a dream come true” to compete in Formula 1 with Williams.

In November, Haas announced it would not renew the contract of Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-time champion Michael.

He was replaced by Nico Hülkenberg, who had previously made 181 Grand Prix starts with Williams, Force India, Sauber and Renault.

Hülkenberg, who had been a reserve driver for Aston Martin, said he still had “the hunger to race, the fire to be in Formula 1.” He added, “It’s the pinnacle of motorsport, a pretty cool environment, what I love doing and probably what I’m best at.”

An arrangement between the teams allowed all the drivers to drive with their new teams on a test day after the final race in Abu Dhabi. Ordinarily, drivers do not start work until the new year.

All were happy, including Alonso. “I’m much more optimistic now,” he said.

“When I signed for Aston Martin, I was 90 percent happy; when they started improving and they finished the season on a high, I was 100 percent; now I’m 100 plus.”

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