Central to the ongoing saga surrounding Oscar Piastri’s Formula 1 debut is the Contract Recognition Board.
The young Australian’s future has been the main F1 talking point since the Hungarian Grand Prix, following Fernando Alonso’s decision to drive for Aston Martin next season.
That decision caught the Formula 1 paddock by surprise, including Alpine where Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer revealed he learned of the move via the press release on the Monday following the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Since then, the team announced Piastri as the Spaniard’s replacement, only for the 21-year-old to take to social media to refute that claim.
Though not formally acknowledged, it’s widely accepted that is because he had instead agreed a deal that will see him replace Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren.
All contracts between teams and drivers pertaining to Formula 1 must be lodged with the Contract Recognition Board (CRB).
The CRB keeps tabs of all existing contracts and is the exclusive body for any disputes that may arise, as laid out under the agreement between teams and the sport’s commercial rights holder (the Concorde Agreement).
The process is fairly straight forward.
Upon the signing of a new Formula 1 driver contract, teams take a photocopy on the paperwork, with financial details redacted, and place it into a sealed envelope marked ‘contract’.
A form, carrying key details of the contract – the parties it’s between, start date and date of conclusion, et cetera – is completed and filed into a separate envelope entitled ‘form’.
Both are sent to the FIA, where an independent secretary based in Geneva opens only the envelope containing the summary, with the contract itself filed away, unopened.
The key details are recorded and then, provided there are no conflicts, nothing more happens aside from its receipt being acknowledged.
However, where a conflict exists, a dispute process is triggered and it is ultimately this function for which the board was created.
The CRB itself is made up of four representatives, one apiece from France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Those individuals, who are not permitted to have ties to a promoter, sponsor, or teams, are appointed independently of the FIA.
If a conflicting contract is lodged with the CRB, all parties are advised and are able to request a hearing.
There is a seven (working) day period in which those objections can be raised.
If a dispute is raised during that window, a meeting in Geneva must be convened within three days.
Following the conclusion of that meeting, the CRB must deliver its decision within three working days.
In instances where a conflict exists but no hearing is requested, the pre-existing contract takes precedence.
Importantly, that process counts only for contracts filed with the CRB and exists only within the realm of Formula 1.
There is nothing to say that what Piastri has with Alpine constitutes a ‘Formula 1’ contract, and it could simply be that Formula 1 is mentioned as an option should a clause be exercised.
That is a distinct and logical possibility owing to the fact McLaren has, by all accounts, filed its contract with the 21-year-old with the CRB without conflict.
It’s quite possible that a valid contract with Alpine, or more likely the Alpine Academy, exists for Piastri, but as it is not a ‘Formula 1’ contract, the CRB has no visibility of it.
That contract could reference Formula 1, though most likely as a clause or option rather than an explicit ‘Formula 1’ contract, in which case there’s no need to lodge it with the CRB.
The point at which Alpine converted Piastri into a ‘Formula 1’ driver, a contract would need to be submitted, with sources suggesting that happened on Monday.
As a result, it’s understood the matter is in front of the CRB, with an outcome not expected until the week preceding the Belgian Grand Prix.
Depending on the outcome of that, there could be further legal ramifications for Piastri through the civil legal system as a result of his ‘non-F1’ contract, something Szafnauer has stated he’s of a mind to do.
“Going to the High Court is over 90 percent certain that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
“If the CRB says ‘your licence is only valid at Alpine’, and then he [Piastri] says ‘that’s great but I’m never driving for them, I’ll just sit out a year’, then you’ve got to go to the High Court for compensation.”
Alpine has invested heavily in the Australian through the latter stages of his junior career, tipping in millions of dollars’ worth of support to develop the 21-year-old.
On the surface, it is therefore reasonable for Alpine to at least attempt to recoup its costs through the legal system even if the CRB rules in favour of McLaren given the potential underlying contract.