Formula 1 rookie Oscar Piastri is well aware that he is following in the footsteps of McLaren’s great drivers, among the greatest in our sport including Lewis Hamilton who he joins on the grid this year.
The 21-year-old Australian joins highly rated Lando Norris at McLaren for his first year in the top flight, having sauntered through his junior career impressively enough to convince Zak Brown to extract him from Alpine’s flimsy contract with the kid.
Whatever the case, Piastri has big shoes to fill, saying as much in a recent interview on the McLaren team website: “Seeing Lewis Hamilton’s car in the flesh brings back a few memories from when I started watching F1.
“As I got older and learned more about the sport, I gained an understanding of the significance of the team’s history before I was born. Senna and The Prof’s [Alain Prost] cars were particularly cool to see.”
Pisatri grew up watching Hamilton dominate F1, he was seven when the Briton won his first title driving for McLaren. On 5 March, when the 2023 F1 season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix, Piastri will join the legend on the grid.
The new McLaren driver explained: “That is a bit of an unusual one that I am still getting my head around. I think once the helmet goes on, they’ll just become another driver on the grid that I am trying to beat, but, at least before the season starts, that is probably the most unique element of the mental side of things that I need to get used to.”
Piastri is convinced ditching Alpine for McLaren was the right call for his career
Despite the fact that the defection makes him one of the most under-pressure rookies to enter F1 in recent years, he has faith in McLaren’s hit-and-miss ability of developing talented drivers into top campaigners, citing Hamilton and Norris as examples.
“Lewis and Lando are two prime examples of that,” he ventured, without mentioning Kevin Magnussen, Sergio Perez and Stoffel Vandoorne of course! “McLaren have a good history of bringing through rookies and turning them into world-class F1 drivers, so that gave me confidence.
“That, and the feeling of being wanted by the team was a massive, massive draw. The passion, the energy and the desire to have me in the team was a very nice feeling.
“The other part was the trajectory of the team in the last five years or so, which has generally been towards the front. Last year was a bit more of a plateau, but in general, it has been an upward trend, and it’s been eye-opening to see the work going on behind the scenes to get us even further up the grid.”
F1 is life-altering in every way imaginable for a driver no matter who you are, Piastri is still coming to terms with that: “I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet. It has been nice in that sense to be so busy, but in general, I think my character is pretty stable, and it is a personality trait of mine to be pretty relaxed. I think it is a mixture of those two things.
“A third aspect is having something to focus on again. For the last 12 months, I was learning as much as possible from being a Reserve Driver, but there was never the certainty that I would get a race seat, but now I have a race seat that sharpens your focus. It’s been nice to have that from the start of this year.”
Although Piastri did not race in 2022, he did ‘live the life’ so to speak
Oscar explained his role last year with Alpine: “Getting a first taste of what the media schedule is like and what a weekend schedule is like in F1 was a good thing. Going to my home grand prix in Melbourne as a Reserve Driver for the first time, as opposed to going as a racing driver, was probably a good experience because it means that I know roughly what I am getting myself into.
“Having the right mentality is massively important, and being able to focus on what’s going to make you successful is key. McLaren are very focused on processes, which is how I work, so it’s been very encouraging to be on the same wavelength.”
Piastri is no flash in the pan, he was champion three years in a row, first in 2019 taking Formula Renault Eurocup, the next year he was F3 Champion and the next F2 Champion; all titles conquered with minimum fuss and maximum grit that made his mentor Mark Webber lobby for him all the way onto the grid.
Piastri acknowledged: “Yeah, I think my driving style is probably pretty similar to my personality. Smooth is quite a common comment that I get, and precise. I think it’s rare for me to have what you might call a scruffy lap. Obviously, everyone does now and again, but I think my laps are generally pretty clean, quite consistent and methodical.
“That has been a staple of my three championships. Even if we’re not quite quick enough, we’re able to be there or thereabouts, which I think is really important – even more so in a season as long as the F1 season.”
Piastri hits the big stage just as F1 is booming
Unprecedented Netflix inspired interest globally, with the USA falling in love with F1 big time, 23 races this season will be a mammoth grind, but he is not alone as he has a solid support network in his corner: “It is super, super important, and that is something I have learned
“Now that I am in F1, it is important to have good people and management around you. Mark and Ann [Webber] have been well beyond their worth in organising everything and removing pressure from my shoulders.
“You’ve got a lot more people around you than in the junior categories, in terms of the people you work with in your team, so having good relationships with people becomes even more important.
“In terms of shutting off, I’m still pretty young, so I get away with the video game excuse. Every now and again, it’s something to take your mind away from racing. But seeing my girlfriend and my friends, if the schedules align, is important.”
Reality check, barring a miracle beyond imagination, Paistri’s streak of three Champion titles will end, as it is safe to say he shan’t be 2023 F1 World Champion with McLaren but, for now, that’s hardly the goal.
Looking into his crystal ball Oscar remarked: “If it’s been a year that I’ve learned a lot and built the foundation for the rest of my career, then that would be a success. If there are lessons that I can take from my debut season that I can carry through the rest of my career, or mistakes that I make that I don’t make again for the rest of my career, then that’ll be a success for me.
“Also, just enjoying it because it’s a unique opportunity and experience to be an F1 driver, so just making sure I enjoy my first year of what I’m doing,” added Piastri, with the wisdom that belies his age.
In teammate Norris, Piastri has the best benchmark possible, beating the 23-year-old with four seasons under his belt, is the goal, making this one of the more intriguing driver pairings on the grid, with huge potential for ‘civil war’ should the rookie really be the ‘Real Deal’ those in his corner claim. No matter how you look at it, it’s a big ask with nowhere to hide.
Welcome to F1 Oscar Jack Piastri! Now bring it on!