Welcome To Silly Season! Formula 1’s Annual News and Rumor-Filled Summer Break
Every season Formula 1 takes a summer vacation, the teams close up shop, the drivers disappear from the spotlight (well, some of them do as you’ll soon find out), and everyone takes stock of the first half of the season. The Formula 1 season reconvenes at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix, from August 26th-28th. The teams will be fresh and new technical directives regarding vertical oscillations will be in place at the start of the race weekend.
Surely, there isn’t F1 news that affects betting for when the season reconvenes, right? Wrong! While the cars are silent, Formula 1’s Summer Break is known as “Silly Season” for a reason: the driver market goes wild, and crazy, speculative rumors fly around the virtual paddock.
If you are new to Formula 1 or auto-racing in general, Welcome to Silly Season. Thus far, the 2022 edition has been the wildest since the mid-00s and the Jensen Button-BAR-Williams situation from 2004-05. And there will be implications from Silly Season for your Formula 1 betting future.
The Wiley Ol’ Campaigner Lights the Fuse
Obviously, there are limited seats in Formula 1, the pinnacle of auto racing. Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes have their driver tandems locked up through 2023. With no seats available at the top of the grid, those without contracts for 2023 search the paddock for a seat in a Formula 1 car.
When four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from Formula 1, it was met with shock from experts and people in the paddock alike. This created a vacancy at Aston Martin that Aston Martin didn’t expect to have – the Silverstone outfit wanted Seb to return for 2023.
Meanwhile, further up the road and on the grid, a certain Wiley Ol’ Campaigner was surely crafting a plan to maximize his gains from Silly Season. Alpine and Fernando Alonso were at a contract impasse: Alonso wanted a justified two-year deal, while Alpine wanted a one-year deal, with an option based on performance.
Alpine Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer left Hungary with Alonso’s contract all but worked out, save for the impasse over length. Szafnauer must have read Alonso’s cunning and sly grin as confirmation that he’d get what he wanted in the end. Shockingly, Szafnauer found out like the rest of the world that the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner was indeed going to get what he wanted.
Less than a day later, Aston Martin announced that Fernando Alonso has signed a two-year deal, leaving Alpine/Renault for greener pastures. And with that the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner disappeared with the sly grin on his face, knowing he threw a grenade into the F1 driver market and Alpine’s driver plans.
As brilliant and cunning as Alonso is, he could have never predicted how big the fallout from his thief-in-the-night-like move to Aston Martin would be.
An Unproven Rookie Shuns a Guaranteed F1 Grid Spot
Alpine moved quickly and confirmed their current reserve driver as Alonso’s replacement for 2023.
Alpine’s current reserve driver is the reigning Formula 2 World Champion, Oscar Piastri. The season before winning F2, Piastri won the F3 World Champion. This is a similar resume to George Russell’s before joining F1.
Piastri is the most highly touted and talented driver not currently occupying a seat on the F1 grid. Managed by a team featuring ex-Red Bull driver Mark Webber, Piastri issued a statement unequivocally rejecting the Alpine Formula 1 seat, stating he would not race for the team.
Piastri hasn’t appeared on track in any official F1 session. Ever.
Yet, apparently, Piastri has options. Williams, long believed to be Piastri’s home on loan, similar to Alex Albon from Red Bull, is clearly out of the running.
In response to the continuing fallout from the Alonso/Alpine/Piastri bomb, Williams secured Alex Albon for another two years to lead the team. Albon posted a satirical confirmation message, mimicking Piastri’s Alpine rejection statement.
A Whirlwind of Rumors
And here is where Silly Season goes crazy, more so in the social-media era. Once a domino falls, many in the F1 world scramble to produce and consume content about the driver market and engage in rampant online speculation and rumor-mongering. Let’s explore and dispel some of these rumors, shall we?
Alpine is a French team with one French driver, Esteban Ocon, under contract until 2023. Online rumors are connecting Pierre Gasly to the vacant seat at Alpine. What’s better for a French team than one French driver? Two of them! Too bad they allegedly really don’t like each other. That’s a teammate dynamic that would hurt Alpine, not help Alpine reach their desired heights. Moreover, Alpine would have to pay to extract Gasly from Red Bull, and Gasly seems intent on winning back the Red Bull seat he lost in 2019.
Because of the Webber link to Red Bull, online rumors are connecting Piastri to a packed Red Bull driver stable filled with junior rank drivers, Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, Albon, and the duo of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who are leading Red Bull to a likely double World Championship in 2022.
Where does Piastri fit in amongst that stable of drivers? Furthermore, it’s tough to think that Piastri would be willing to spend a second year on the F1 sidelines for a potential spot at the top team alongside the reigning World Champion and teammate destroyer Verstappen.
Alpine now finds themselves in an unenviable situation: they don’t have their team leader and two-time world champion nor the mega-rookie they’ve heavily invested after this season. Well, they still have Piastri barring whatever litigation is required to clear up any contract disputes.
Working with the assumption that Piastri will be driving somewhere not Alpine in 2023, and attempting to dispel these rumors, the question remains: who replaces Alonso at Alpine, with so many major pieces off the table?
McLaren’s Role in Multiple Driver Contract Disputes, in Multiple Race Series.
McLaren might have a solution for Alpine: trade! Piastri is rumored to have a deal with McLaren, who have two drivers under Formula 1 contracts and a growing stable of IndyCar talents getting test drives.
Daniel Ricciardo has struggled throughout his time at McLaren. Being dogged by rumors that everyone from IndyCar stars Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, to midfield rival (and fellow former Red Bull driver) Gasly, to unproven rookie Piastri will be taking his race seat when he has a contract in hand cannot help his race-week preparations. With Ricciardo affirming his commitment to his contract and F1, McLaren will need to pay Ricciardo to leave his seat to have an opening for any of the drivers rumored for the spot.
A Ricciardo reunion with Alpine/Renault is the best outcome for Alpine of the drivers available. Yet, actively pursuing and bringing back a driver down on performance who shunned your team not too long ago isn’t the best look, but Alpine can’t be worried about optics after this past week.
McLaren’s tact with the rumored Piastri deal is remarkably different than their approach with reigning IndyCar World Champion, Alex Palou. Chip Ganassi Racing announced they had extended Palou’s contract, only for Palou to deny this claim and for McLaren Racing (not just the F1 team) to announce Palou’s singing hours after the Ganassi statement.
Needless to say, this situation between Ganassi, Palou, and McLaren informed McLaren’s approach with Piastri, if he has a deal with McLaren. Regardless of the teams involved, both the Palou and Piastri disputes will eventually be resolved in a courtroom.
Two Drivers to Focus Your Betting on After Silly Season
Alex Albon in the Williams is the first driver we’re suggesting to pay attention to in the second half of the 2022 Formula 1 season for betting purposes. Albon has shown his talent, pace, and skill in a Williams at the back of the grid, more often than not.
However, Williams Silverstone upgrades seem to have worked pretty well, and Albon has been quick in the Williams throughout 2022. With a new contract solidifying him as the team leader, I’d expect Albon to have a little extra pace and finish in the points a little more often.
The second driver to recommend is Haas’ Mick Schumacher. Does Schumacher have a deal for 2023 with Haas? Not yet. Will he? Considering the deep ties between Ferrari and Haas, it’s likely the Ferrari contracted Schumacher will remain at Haas for a third season.
The Haas has shown great pace this year, and Schumacher has rounded into form as the season progressed. I’d expect Schumacher to continue to grow and thrive in the mid-field, landing in Q3 more often and scoring points more often than not.
As long as the Ferrari power unit in the back of the Haas holds up, that is.
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