McLaren chief Zak Brown slams rival boss to reignite bitter feud

Lewis Hamilton opens up on difficult season for Mercedes

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McLaren CEO Zak Brown has reopened the team’s feud with Alpine by describing Otmar Szafnauer’s criticism of Oscar Piastri as ‘inaccurate and unfair’ following the Australian driver’s first test with his new team on Tuesday. Piastri is set to race alongside Lando Norris at McLaren next year despite initially being announced to drive for Alpine earlier this year without a contract having been signed between the two parties.

Piastri spent a number of years as a member of Alpine’s junior ranks before sensationally insisting that he would not be driving for them in 2023 in spite of their willingness to promote him to a race seat alongside Esteban Ocon. He went on to sign a multi-year contract with McLaren, while Alpine were forced to look elsewhere and eventually opted to land Pierre Gasly after reaching a severance agreement with Red Bull and AlphaTauri.

Alpine boss Szafnauer was left furious and quickly opened a dispute with McLaren, but it was the latter who came out on top when the case was presented to the FIA’s contract recognition board. It was suggested by Szafnauer at the time that Piastri showed a lack of integrity by turning his back on Alpine and Brown has since fired back at his opposite number by pointing the finger at his scathing assessment of the events that unfolded.

“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,” Brown told reporters at this week’s behind-closed-doors test in Abu Dhabi.

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“I think we need to remember they were trying to sign Fernando Alonso, and it’s kind of this: ‘Oh, this seat is yours, we announced you’. Well, that’s only because Fernando caught you by surprise, so he was going to have to sit out another year or go to a team further down the grid, and I think he served his duty, sitting out a year.

“Ultimately, Toto [Wolff] released Ocon. At some point you hold them, you invest in them, but if you can’t give them [something] and it just doesn’t work out, you can’t hold someone back. So the way Otmar called his [Piastri] integrity into question, I thought was very inaccurate and unfair, especially coming from Otmar.”

Brown went on to insist that although he has been thoroughly impressed with Piastri’s conduct off the track in recent months, he is equally fond of his on-track abilities behind the wheel and believes that he can develop into one of F1’s best drivers over the coming seasons.

“He was very mature through the whole process which, for a 21-year-old, with having all that pressure and spotlight, he was not frazzled, [he] kept his head down,” Brown added.

“We’ve now had him in our TPC [testing previous car] car, he did an excellent job,” added the McLaren boss. “I think he’s going to be a future star. I think what’s important is he’s not raced for a year, we don’t have a lot of testing.

“I wish there was more pre-season testing, not just for Oscar, just in general, because he’s effectively going to get a day and a half, which is not a lot. I think he’s going to be competitive and push Lando. We just need to give him time to bore into the team, he’s a very serious individual and he’s ready to go.”

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