Isack Hadjar, wearing his blue and red Red Bull suit, stands on the crash box of his racecar and holds his fists up in celebration with his helmet still on. To the left, Victor Martins crouches in the cockpit of his car and puts his steering wheel back into place in parc fermé.

F3 front-runners on driver academy politics: ‘It’s important to stay loyal’

The wrangling over reigning F2 champion Oscar Piastri’s Formula 1 contracts with Alpine and McLaren has cast fresh light on the relationship between drivers and the academies that support them. F1 Feeder Series asked some academy-supported drivers in the FIA F3 Championship about what driver and programme should expect of one another.

By Michael McClure

Though the selection criteria for each driver academy is different, each one aims to give its drivers a ready-made link to a Formula 1 team, often with the end goal of placing a homegrown driver there.

The approach was piloted in the early 2000s by Red Bull, whose namesake junior team has produced such drivers for the main team as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Many other Formula 1 teams have since launched programmes of their own, which include the Ferrari Driver Academy, the Mercedes Junior Team, the Williams Driver Academy and the Alpine Academy.

The last of those academies has been embroiled in a contract dispute involving Alpine reserve driver and academy graduate Piastri, who was initially announced by the team to be driving at Alpine in 2023 last month before he repudiated the news on social media. Earlier today, the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board decided that Piastri’s valid contract for 2023 was with McLaren, not Alpine. It is understood that Piastri signed his McLaren deal nearly two months ago after the British Grand Prix.

In the wake of the initial Twitter announcements, several F1 team bosses chided Piastri for what they perceived as disloyal behaviour toward Alpine, who had backed him in their academy since his 2019 title win in Formula Renault Eurocup. Earlier this season, Alpine allowed Piastri, the 2020 F3 and 2021 F2 champion, to stand in at McLaren in F1 if one of the Woking team’s regular drivers could not contest a race.

Red Bull gives a lifeline

Speaking to F1 Feeder Series at a media roundtable on Thursday afternoon, F3 championship leader Isack Hadjar, a Red Bull junior, indicated that the support from the Red Bull Junior Team enabled him to race this year. He had been noticed by Red Bull Junior Team adviser Helmut Marko last year at the Monaco Formula Regional round, where Hadjar took a win and a second. That earned him partial support for the 2021 season with the agreement that he would join the academy full-time in 2022.

“I am staying loyal to my academy. It’s mainly because of them that I get to race. I have no idea what’s happening with Piastri and I don’t want to know – it depends on the contract you get – but, at the moment, it’s important to stay loyal to the team that’s helping you through junior categories.”

‘In good hands’ at Alpine

Third-placed F3 driver Victor Martins, currently in the Alpine Academy, echoed Hadjar’s sentiments of loyalty, though he himself experienced a bout of what some might consider disloyalty on the academy’s part. Martins first joined the programme, then called the Renault Sport Academy, in 2018 but was dropped by the programme at the end of 2019 despite running Piastri all the way to the Formula Renault Eurocup title that season. The following year, he won the championship, which earned him a place in the rebranded Alpine Academy.

Martins declined to speak about Piastri’s situation but praised the programme for what it did to push him towards his long-term goals.

“I think every situation is different with all the drivers. On my side, I know that I have a contract. I’m in good hands with Alpine. They have been supporting me since a long time. I owe them also some big respect,” Martins said. “I’m really grateful to them to make it happen that I can race, I can do my passion, I can actually do what I love.

I’m in good hands with Alpine. They have been supporting me since a long time. I owe them also some big respect

Victor Martins (ART Grand Prix)

“The goal in the end with Alpine is to do all the way together and see also towards long-term goals with Alpine, so I think that they are in the same approach and the others’ academies are doing the same. In the end, I don’t know. I don’t want to speak about what’s happening with Piastri and Alpine and McLaren, but I know on my side I’m in good hands. The relationship is healthy, so I want to keep it like that.”

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