Alpine offer Australian reserve Piastri to McLaren as F1 stand-in

McLaren can choose from at least three drivers to replace COVID-stricken Daniel Ricciardo at the Bahrain Grand Prix, team principal Andreas Seidl said on Saturday.

The 32-year-old missed the opening two days of the final pre-season test in Bahrain after feeling unwell and then tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday evening, ruling him out of Saturday's final day of action.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Alpine has offered its reserve driver Oscar Piastri as a Formula One stand-in for rival McLaren, giving the team more options to choose from if COVID-stricken Daniel Ricciardo is unable to race in next weekend's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ricciardo, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, was forced to sit out the whole of the final Bahrain pre-season test which ended on Saturday.

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Seidl, who was quoted by German publication Auto, Motor und Sport as saying Ricciardo would have to isolate until the evening of March 17, said he was confident the Australian would be back behind the wheel in time for the March 18-20 grand prix.

The team already has a reserve driver-sharing agreement with engine supplier Mercedes that allows it to use Stoffel Vandoorne or Nyck de Vries as substitutes, while Scot Paul di Resta is also on its books as a back-up.

"In the spirit of offering maximum racing opportunities to our stable of young talent, we have agreed that McLaren may call upon... Oscar Piastri in the event one of their drivers is unable to race," Alpine said in a statement.

"Oscar will remain fully contracted to Alpine, and we will retain first options on his services," it added.

The statement did not specify how long Piastri would be on offer to McLaren as a reserve but the engagement is most likely for the entirety of the 2022 season.

Australian Piastri, 20, won the Formula Two title last year and is seen as a promising young talent.

He has been tipped as a future replacement for double world champion Fernando Alonso and Alpine has an exhaustive preparation programme planned for him this season.

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He could gain crucial Formula One race experience next weekend if McLaren pick him as a replacement if Ricciardo is unable to race.

Di Resta, whose last F1 experience came as a stand-in for Felipe Massa at Williams in 2017, and Vandoorne, who raced for McLaren in 2017 and 2018 and now drives for Mercedes in the Formula E series, are scheduled to compete in the 1000 Miles of Sebring endurance race on the same weekend as the Bahrain Grand Prix.

That left De Vries as the only driver in the McLaren pool free to stand in for Ricciardo until Alpine's offer of Piastri.

Seidl, though, does not believe McLaren will need a replacement for Ricciardo, who heads into the season on the back foot having had only one-and-a-half days' experience of a car designed to radical new rules.

"I’m confident he will be fit again next weekend," said Seidl.

"He’s feeling better already but as we know it simply takes a few days until you are fully back in good shape."

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