Aussie prodigy who could steal Ricciardo’s F1 lifeline

As Alpine continues to try to fill its vacant seat for next season, Australian prodigy Jack Doohan has emerged as a contender.

After a string of solid performances, most recently taking pole position for Formula 2’s feature race at Monza, Doohan sits fourth in the second-tier competition’s driver standings.

His recent results have boosted the teenager’s prospects of partnering with Esteban Ocon following Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin and reserve driver Oscar Piastri’s controversial signing with McLaren.

There are reports the team intends to bag Pierre Gasly from Red Bull’s sister team, AlphaTauri, but they will only release the Frenchman from his one-year contract extension if he can sign IndyCar driver Colton Herta.

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However, the chances of Herta lining up on the F1 grid next season is contingent on the Andretti Autosport driver receiving an exemption from the FIA ​​for an obligatory superlicense.

When questioned about the type of driver the Enstone-based squad is hunting, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said the team’s preference would be an experienced team member who is able to score championship points from the outset.

“We need to find a driver that’s capable of scoring big points right away,” Rossi told Motorsport.com.

“This basically leads us towards a more senior driver if you will, but at the same [time], that is able to grow with us. So those are the criteria we use at the moment.

“(Team boss) Otmar (Szafnauer) is leading the process: seeing all of the drivers discussing with them, assessing options, assessing them here, potentially assessing them in tests. So I guess it’s going to be a process that is going to last a little bit.

“We want to make the right decision and there’s no hurry.”

But, it could be argued that sitting on one’s hands was what caused Alpine to lose the services of Piastri after he spent four years as part of the Renault and Alpine family.

There are also very few candidates with the level of experience sought by the team available, with terminated McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo and Aston Martin reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg still wanting to continue their careers in the sport.

Therefore, Alpine will not want to repeat the same mistake it made with Piastri with another promising youngster like Doohan.

The 19-year-old – who is the son of five-time Moto GP world champion, Mick Doohan – made waves ahead of the 2022 season when he joined the Alpine Academy after five years in the Red Bull Junior Team.

Asked whether Doohan was being considered for the seat, Rossi confirmed that he was in the conversation.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said.

“Jack certainly has a very good sense of timing, because he’s performing immensely at the moment.

“To be honest, we already knew he was very fast, the raw speed he has, but he has gained in maturity a lot. It shows on the track, but also off track. I mean, the conversations we have are very impressive. I think something clicked; he made a step, which is really good.”

However, despite the nod, Rossi stated that the best way forward for a young driver was to spend the first years of their F1 career developing in a lower-ranked team, illustrated through George Russell’s three-year stint at Williams and Charles Leclerc’s season at Sauber (now Alfa Alfa Romeo).

“Irrespective of his value, we still believe that the best path for a young driver is to potentially go in a team where you have a bit of less pressure to deliver,” he said.

“I’d rather have him damage his first wing somewhere else; find his limits in a new car, because the step is big from an F2 to an F1.

“It’s what everyone does elsewhere. That’s why George (Russell), despite his amazing talents, same pedigree, and Charles (Leclerc) as well, they needed to basically hone their skills in a big machine that is much faster than the F2 for a year or two. So that’s the plan for Jack.

“That’s not to say we’re not considering him, because his run of form is impressive. So we’re looking at him.

“But again, we are still keeping in mind the main criteria, which is being ready to score points right away, and help us continue growing by developing the car.

“So we need someone who’s capable of showing the way alongside Esteban. We can’t develop a car on only one side of the garage.”

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