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Oscar Piastri, Alpine reserve driver 2022, Australians in Formula 1, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, Guanyu Zhou

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Oscar Piastri is next-in-line for a Formula 1 drive after accepting a role as Alpine’s reserve driver – and the one seat he could’ve had for 2022 has been filled by a rival.

Guanyu Zhou will become China’s first full-time F1 driver when he replaces Antonio Giovinazzi for next season at Alfa Romeo.

Giovinazzi, with a career-best result of fifth across three seasons, has scored points just once in 2021 when he finished 10th at Monaco, not showing enough promise to hold his seat.

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Zhou sits second in the Formula 2 championship behind Piastri but has serious financial backing behind him. Both drivers are members of the Alpine Academy.

Piastri, 20, was always considered a long-shot for the Alfa Romeo seat given Zhou’s financial advantages – plus, as the first Chinese F1 driver, Zhou will open up the mid-pack team to a large market.

Zhou will partner with current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas in 2022.

Guanyu Zhou has joined Alfa Romeo as expected.
Guanyu Zhou has joined Alfa Romeo as expected.Source: FOX SPORTS

Instead Piastri will hope to join Daniel Ricciardo and make it two Aussies on the grid in 2023.

Next year he will back up Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon and spend plenty of time testing for the mid-pack Alpine squad. He replaces ex-Red Bull and AlphaTauri driver Daniil Kyvat.

But with Alonso only contracted until the end of 2022 and now in his 40s, it’s expected Piastri would be in line to take his seat when it becomes available.

Ocon, a race-winner in Hungary earlier this year, is contracted until the end of 2024.

“I’m looking forward to being much more involved with the team and contributing to its intended success next season,” Piastri said.

“The reserve driver role is the next step towards my aim for a race seat in 2023, which is very exciting.

“I’ve proved myself in the junior formulas over the last couple of years and feel like I’m ready for Formula 1 now along with the trackside experience at race weekends, we will put together a substantial test program in order to keep developing myself to grow even more prepared for a race seat.

“I’m very thankful to Alpine for their support. We’ve enjoyed two very successful seasons together in the Academy and I’m grateful for the faith they’ve put in me for this next step with an eye on a bigger future.”

Piastri has been on pole in half of all F2 races this season, winning three times including two feature races. (Photo by Joe Portlock – Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)Source: Supplied

If Piastri wins the F2 title this year, as expected, he will match the feat of going back-to-back in Formulas 3 and 2 achieved by Charles Leclerc and George Russell.

The F2 champion cannot participate in the series again, meaning the Aussie will be fully dedicated to his Alpine test role in 2022.

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practice, qualifying, results, schedule, grid, drivers, crashes, how to watch, start time

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All eyes will be on the two practice sessions that kickstart Friday’s action as the Supercars hit the track in the lead-up to Friday afternoon’s qualifying.

Chaz Mostert and Lee Holdsworth made a statement at the practice session on Thursday, proving themselves a genuine contender to look out for at Mount Panorama.

Holdsworth recorded the fastest time of the second co-driver only session while Mostert, who took out the Bathurst 1000 in 2014, had the second quickest time behind Cameron Waters.

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Holdsworth tops practice session | 01:18

This weekend presents a perfect chance for Holdsworth to win the Bathurst 1000 in his 18th attempt and first time at the mountain not as a full-time driver since 2005.

Waters recorded a time of 2:05.023 to best Mostert and Dick Johnson Racing’s Will Davison.

There were plenty of the usual suspects making up the rest of the top 10, including James Courtney, Mark Winterbottom, Tim Slade, Shane van Gisbergen, Todd Hazelwood, Nick Percat and Brodie Kostecki.

Meanwhile, Thursday was a disaster for Brad Jones Racing with Macauley Jones and Chris Pither both having issues.

Pither crashed their Commodore with less than two minutes on the clock in P2 while Jones had power-steering problems in the first session.

ULTIMATE GUIDE: Full schedule, weather forecast and favourites

Up in smoke! Jones’ practice turns ugly | 00:46

The next co-drivers only practice session begins at 10.40am while the lead drivers will take to the track for practice at 1.30pm.

Later in the afternoon the grid for the Great Race will be settled by the regular qualifying.

There was plenty of early drama on Thursday, with two big crashes in qualifying for the support categories.

Follow all the action from the track in our live blog below! Can’t see it? Click here!

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Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, championship race, cheating, feud, Red Bull

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Lewis Hamilton has hit back at cheating accusations while Max Verstappen has rejected the notion his rival’s previous title showdown experience would give him any advantage at this weekend’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen can clinch the title if he outscores Hamilton by 18 points in Monday morning’s [AEDT] race on the perilous and unforgiving wall-lined high speed street circuit, which is hosting a Grand Prix for the first time.

The title race though is far from over, as is the case with the ongoing feud between Red Bull and Mercedes.

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Hamilton closes the gap with Qatar win | 01:29

Speaking to The Telegraph, Hamilton has clapped back at claims his Mercedes team is benefiting from cheating in its bid for success this season.

It comes after repeated claims from Red Bull boss Christian Horner of social media evidence proving Mercedes used components that were a “clear breach” of regulations.

“We all have egos and that’s what controls our emotions and it is egos fighting each other,” Hamilton told The Telegraph.

“There is defence, there is respect. But what is important… I did see someone say something about cheating and that’s the worst claim to make.

“I called [Mercedes senior engineers] James Allison and Mike Elliott and said ‘I really want to know about these things’ and they took me through details of where we are.

“We have done all these tests and this is where it is. But I don’t like it when people put that out there. I don’t think we have exploited any loophole.

“They [Red Bull] did at the start of the year with their wing and then they changed that rule and now it is much stricter and the wing can’t do anything.”

The championship race will go down to the wire. (Photo by Antonin Vincent - Pool/Getty Images)
The championship race will go down to the wire. (Photo by Antonin Vincent – Pool/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The drama adds just another element of intrigue to a tense championship duel between Verstappen and Hamilton.

Verstappen, who holds an eight-point advantage ahead of the final two races of the season, said he did not believe the seven-time champion’s previous experiences could make much difference.

The Red Bull driver said it was to be expected that the 36-year-old Briton had progressed in his career and stressed, instead, that he had enjoyed his season-long scrap with the Mercedes man.

“Well, I think it’s natural, of course, that when you are in this stage of your career, you’re better prepared than you were in your first or second season, when Lewis was fighting for his first title.

“I think that’s just a natural progression and it’s very normal. I mean, I also feel much better prepared and more experienced than when I just came into Formula One.

“So, no, I don’t think that it makes a big difference otherwise it would have shown already throughout the season.

“As a driver, you always keep learning even when you’re 30, 35, 40. You learn through experience.

“Naturally, you become quicker, but you maybe know or understand how to deal with certain situations, or prepare yourself better – these things are pretty normal.”

Who will come out on top? (Photo by Antonin Vincent / POOL / AFP)Source: AFP

After a serene Hamilton had declared himself as utterly at ease, Verstappen followed in similar fashion, offering a calm, gentle and often-bland approach to questions from reporters at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

He evaded all questions that could prompt a controversial answer and revealed none of the once-familiar bluntness that characterised his early career in F1.

Asked about his chances of winning the title and becoming the Netherlands’ first world champion driver, he said: “It doesn’t matter where we end up because we’ve had a really good season as a team. To be in this title fight to the end is really impressive from our side, we are not looking at others.”

“I think last year I had, for my feeling, also a very good season, but I’m always looking at myself and what I can do better. You learn throughout every single season certain things, what you can do better.

“Even when I win a race, I always look at things that could have been better, or in general throughout the whole weekend.

“But I think fighting against Lewis, in general, has been good for the sport. It’s a young guy against the established multiple champion. I think it’s just very exciting.

“So, for me, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting against someone who’s my age or a world champion.

“You know that both of them are great drivers. Some might have had a bit more luck, in general, to be in a good car for a longer time, but that doesn’t take away that they’re a great driver.

“We always try to beat each other, of course, but I think so far it’s been a really cool season.”

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Daniel Ricciardo ‘I’m the best’, Max Verstappen ‘second best’, championship battle with Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull

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Aussie F1 superstar Daniel Ricciardo has opened up on his rivalry and friendship with championship contender Max Verstappen in the most Daniel Ricciardo-way possible.

The 32-year-old has been around the F1 for a long time now and continues to be one of the biggest personalities on the grid.

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But while Ricciardo has been a championship contender, finishing third in both 2014 and 2016 while driving for Red Bull, he has never quite gotten over the hump to truly push to be world champion.

And since leaving Red Bull at the end of the 2019 season, Ricciardo has been trapped in the midfield with Renault and now McLaren.

In his first season with McLaren, Ricciardo has at times struggled to handle his new car, although he did claim the eighth win of his F1 career at Monza.

Ricciardo’s exit from Red Bull has often been linked to the rise of Max Verstappen as the team appeared to prioritise the young Dutchman in a bid to make him the youngest F1 champion in history — an honour he now can’t achieve as he is 24 — as Ricciardo suffered eight retirement in his final season at the team.

Since separating at the end of 2018, Ricciardo and Verstappen have become great friends, challenging Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in the bromance stakes.

Verstappen and Ricciardo speak after spring qualifying at Monza. Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Verstappen and Ricciardo speak after spring qualifying at Monza. Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

But despite not landing the same results Verstappen and sitting 246.5 points behind the Dutchman on the driver standings, Ricciardo is of no doubt who the better driver is, dropped a backhanded compliment for his former teammate.

“Until the day I stop … I’ll always believe I’m the best. I think the day I stop will be the day that I no longer believe I’m the best driver,” Ricciardo joked in an interview with RacingNews365.

“Is Max the second best? Probably! Probably!”

More seriously, Ricciardo believes Verstappen will one day claim the world championship, whether this season or in the future.

Verstappen is currently just eight points ahead of a resurgent Lewis Hamilton in the closest battle for the championship in years.

Ahead of the penultimate Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, a Hamilton first and fastest lap ahead of a second placed Verstappen would see the pair go into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on equal points.

“If it’s not this year, I think it’s inevitable that he wins a world title,” Ricciardo said. “Not to say that it’s an easy thing to achieve, but I think he has all the traits to do it.

“Also his racecraft is good, I like that he goes for gaps. I see a lot of similarities in the way he goes about racing, so that I can certainly respect.”

They didn’t get along too badly when they were both at Red Bull. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Ricciardo also praised Verstappen’s “lack of fear” and said it was much better to get along now they’re on opposing teams.

“As a person, I really like Max. For sure, it’s been probably easier to get on with each other post-teammates, because we don’t have that head-to-head, as you’d call it,” Ricciardo said.

“But I think also he’s matured, you know, so I like the way he goes about his business as well. We are quite different, but I think he’s very true to his word, (there’s) not much bulls*** that goes on. I definitely like him and respect him for that.

“As a driver, look, I remember his very first practice session in Barcelona, when he got into Red Bull, and he was on it straight away. I remember seeing the data and I was like, ‘OK, he’s not messing around’.

“I think he has that speed, that raw speed, that lack of fear. Now he’s got that maturity to really make him a top, top, top tier (driver).”

And despite all the talk of Verstappen getting favourable treatment when the pair teamed up at Red Bull, Ricciardo denied there was a schism in the team.

He pointed to on-track incidents, including the infamous 2018 Baku crash, as signs of how hard they fought it out on the track. But he added that it was “never hostile” in debriefs and “there weren’t any kind of secrets”.

He also said it was equal equipment, although conceding “I didn’t feel was equal in some situations – Baku being the biggest one”.

Ricciardo was blamed for the crash that saw both men taken out of the race.

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