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

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Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 12, 2022 McLaren's Lando Norris arrives before testing REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

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  • Alpine will retain first call on Piastri's services
  • Piastri is the reigning F2 champion

MANAMA, March 12 (Reuters) - Alpine have offered their reserve driver Oscar Piastri as a Formula One stand-in for rivals 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.

Team boss Andreas Seidl, who told German publication Auto, Motor und Sport that Ricciardo would have to isolate until the evening of March 17, is confident the Australian will be fit to race in the March 18-20 season-opener in the island kingdom.

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The team already have a reserve driver-sharing agreement with engine supplier Mercedes that allows them to use Stoffel Vandoorne or Nyck de Vries as substitutes, while Scot Paul di Resta is also on their 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 have an exhaustive preparation programme planned for him this season.

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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Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Clare Fallon

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