Daniel Ricciardo was briefly considered for a return to the Alpine Formula 1 team in 2023, boss Otmar Szafnauer has revealed. After struggling to adapt at McLaren, Ricciardo will leave the team one year before the end of his contract at season's end. He will be replaced by Oscar Piastri, who the Woking team nabbed from under the nose of his current employees as a junior driver. Alpine had intended to promote Piastri to replace the Aston Martin-bound Fernando Alonso but, after he rejected the offer, the squad was forced into looking for a new driver. Eventually, they settled on Pierre Gasly, having extracted him from his AlphaTauri contract to partner Esteban Ocon from 2023. It means that Ricciardo will not be on the 2023 grid, with potential options at Haas and Williams set to go elsewhere, but Alpine boss Szafnauer says talks were initiated about a Ricciardo return.
Szafnauer: Ricciardo was considered
Ricciardo drove for the Enstone-based team in 2019 and 2020 after leaving Red Bull before jumping to McLaren for 2021. In announcing the move before the COVID-19-delayed 2020 season even started, relations at what was then Renault were frosty between the driver and team bosses, with then- boss Cyril Abiteboul saying he was sure Ricciardo would regret the move. However, Abiteboul was ousted ahead of 2021, with a new management structure in place. This later came to be headed by former Force India/Racing Point/Aston Martin boss Szafnauer. "Well, at the beginning [of the driver search], we did have discussions with a few drivers, including Daniel," Szafnauer explained to media at the Japanese Grand Prix after Gasly's announcement. "[But] Pierre meets the criteria that I said, to a T: he's experienced, fast and young. "So, when it became evident that Pierre was a possibility, we made our shortlist even shorter."
Reason for Hungary test
During its search for Ocon's new teammate, Alpine ran a two-day test at the Hungaroring to evaluate potential candidates. The likes of Nyck de Vries, Jack Doohan and Antonio Giovinazzi drove the 2021-spec car, although Alpine were already set on trying to get Gasly. According to Szafnauer, the test was previously set in the diary. "Well, those are tests that are planned well in advance of the test actually happening," he said. "It wasn't quite clear about Pierre, although he was, like I said, on out shortlist, but he was still contracted. "So we ran the three [drivers] in Budapest to assess their ability, and they all did a great job. We definitely learned from it."