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Exclusive: Alpine narrows driver search to six as Rossi keen to move on from Piastri

In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi gives an update on the driver search and his thoughts on the Oscar Piastri situation.

Laurent Rossi's immediate task as Alpine CEO is to fill a promising Formula 1 race seat as soon as he can - something he did not think he would have to be doing when the paddock went on its summer holidays after the Hungarian Grand Prix. Cue a Fernando Alonso-shaped bombshell at 9am the next morning - stating that he was abandoning the project to jump ship to Aston Martin, having been provided the multi-year contract he craved. But Alpine's back-up plan was clear - it would promote reserve and junior driver Oscar Piastri in 2023 to a race seat. Problem solved. Until Piastri publicly turned the offer down on social media, declaring that he would "not be driving for Alpine in 2023." As it turns out and the FIA's Contract Recognition Board, as exclusively revealed by RacingNews365.com, Alpine never had a contract with Piastri beyond 2022, meaning he was a free agent to race for McLaren next year. As such, Alpine have been forced into a search for a new partner to Esteban Ocon with Pierre Gasly their favoured candidate - although this relies upon Red Bull being able to source a replacement for the Frenchman at AlphaTauri. The total list of drivers being considered by Alpine was as high as 14 - but as Rossi exclusively told RacingNews365.com, the shortlist is now down to six names.

Six drivers and moving on from Piastri

"We'll take our time, [because] we don't want to make a mistake," says Rossi when asked about future driver plans. "There is no rush and we are in a comfortable situation. In all modesty, we have the hottest seat in the paddock at the moment. We are the fourth team on the grid [in terms of the current Constructors' Championship], so people are waiting for us before to make a decision. "We chose 14 drivers, as Otmar [Szafnauer, Alpine Team Principal] previously announced. "Now we are down to six [potential drivers.] "Some are not yet completely free to make a switch and others may not quite fit in the picture. "By the end of September we should have a good idea on who we want to sign." As for Piastri - who Alpine nurtured through the junior formulas, Rossi is keen to move on from the saga. "We will find a driver who will drive the car, and in the end the car is still the performance differentiator. "The disappointment stems from having invested so much and the loyalty you show someone, you don't expect them not to give it back like everyone else."

Looking ahead to the future

When Alpine - then badged as Renault - returned to F1 as a works outfit in 2016 - it originally had a five-year plan to get back to winning races and contending for titles. That deadline has come and gone, with Ocon's 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix win the only one for the team since their return. Moreover, including the 2023 line-up, Renault/Alpine would have gone through seven driver pairings and eight drivers in just eight seasons - with the Alonso/Ocon partnership the longest at two complete campaigns. It doesn't breed stability, but Rossi believes it does not matter who is in the car; the team just need to do a better job of building one. "We knew it was going to be some kind of soap opera [when we returned to F1]," he says. "We knew there was going to be drama and we are ready for it the next time: our skin gets thicker and thicker, but the project continues." "We are making progress and we are moving in the right direction. As I said, the driver is important, but the car is the most important. "The gap to Mercedes is half a second and the gap to Ferrari is one second. No driver closes half a second or a whole second. "It's [Piastri] just a little bump in the road. We'll fix it. In fact, we've already closed the book on this subject. "What we've said about this is, in our view, the truth and clear and simple. We'll leave this behind us and just move on."

RESULTS 2024 F1 pre-season testing - Day 2