McLaren boss Zak Brown defends Oscar Piastri after Alpine criticism

McLaren Racing chief Zak Brown has leapt to the defence of his F1 team’s new driver, Oscar Piastri, in response to criticism from the Australian’s former employers, Alpine.

During the summer, Alpine initially announced that Piastri, their reserve driver, would race for the team in 2023. However, the Australian released a statement hours later that categorically denied this.

Piastri then agreed to a deal with McLaren for next season – which Alpine contested. Unfortunately for the French team, though, a Contract Recognition Board ruled in McLaren’s favour, and they had Piastri for 2023.

In response to losing their rising star, Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer said that he expected “more loyalty” from Oscar Piastri. Instead of him, Alpine picked up Pierre Gasly from AlphaTauri.

Recently, Szafnauer aimed another jibe at Piastri by saying that Alpine had a “better” line-up for next year without him.

McLaren’s Zak Brown has weighed in on these comments, praising Oscar Piastri while critiquing the Alpine boss.

“I’ve been very impressed with how he conducted himself over the summer,” said Brown, via BBC Sport. “I thought Otmar’s comments towards Oscar were very unfair and not accurate. Especially having sat through the CRB and now I know exactly what happened.

“I thought the way Otmar called his integrity into question was very inaccurate and unfair. And Piastri was very mature through the whole process. For a 21-year-old having all that pressure and spotlight, he was not frazzled, kept his head down.

“We’ve had him in our (old) car. He did an excellent job and I think he’s going to be a future star.”

Away from defending his new driver, the McLaren boss also expressed excitement at his team’s line-up for 2023.

Zak Brown discusses Oscar Piastri-Lando Norris partnership

Brown had nothing but positive words for Norris and Piastri, one of the younger pairings in F1 for 2023.

“Lando [Norris] is one of the fastest drivers on the grid and I expect he and Oscar to be close. I expect Oscar to have opportunities to beat him and vice versa. But that’s obviously what you want – two drivers right next to each other and reversing the order.”

However, Zak Brown stopped short of setting targets for Oscar Piastri just yet.

“I don’t have any expectations,” added Brown. “Nor have I set out ‘this is what Piastri needs to do by this date’. But Lando is as fast as anyone in F1 and in race-winning equipment, he would win. So, Oscar is going to have a teammate that’s one of the fastest drivers in the world. But I fully expect Oscar, in time, to challenge Lando.”

Lando Norris had an impressive 2022, consistently outperforming his car throughout the season. He finished seventh overall in the drivers’ standings – otherwise known as “the best of the rest”.

Additionally, the McLaren ace captured one podium, at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. His third place was the only top-three finish from a team not called Ferrari, Red Bull, or Mercedes in 2022.

Norris’ 122 championship points ultimately helped McLaren secure fifth in the constructors’ championship. In contrast, teammate Daniel Ricciardo got just 37 points. He is no longer at McLaren as a result – but is still in the F1 world.

Daniel Ricciardo is Red Bull third driver for 2023

Daniel Ricciardo is returning to reigning constructors’ champions Red Bull as a back-up driver next year.

“I’m truly excited to be coming back home to Oracle Red Bull Racing as their third driver in 2023,” said the Australian, via Sky Sports. “For me, the ability to contribute to and be surrounded by the best team in F1 is hugely appealing. It will also give me some time to recharge and refocus.”

Ricciardo has taken this opportunity with Red Bull for one year, with a view to re-joining the grid in 2024. But the former McLaren racer has not ruled out leaving F1 altogether after this “third driver” deal. He commented on this at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

“It [the break from racing] will either fuel the fire and make me hungry and more motivated than ever. Or, it will be like, ‘oh, this [not racing] is the right thing for you’. In that case… then I must be really happy.”

Featured image credit: Getty