Oscar Piastri is hoping his debut Formula 1 drive on home soil at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday will be more successful than the first time he stood on the grid in Melbourne.
The first-season driver, who grew up in a nearby suburb to the Albert Park circuit, was chosen as a flag holder for Toro Rosso Ferrari driver Daniil Kyvat in Melbourne in 2016.
But, to his disappointment, a chance to meet the Russian driver did not eventuate because Kyvat experienced electrical difficulties on the formation lap.
“I was holding Daniil Kyvat´s flag and he broke down on the lap to the grid, so I never actually got to see him,” Piastri said. “(It will be) pretty special to have someone holding my flag this time.”
The 21-year-old Piastri, who replaced popular compatriot Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren for the 2023 season, grew up a 15-minute drive from the circuit but has never driven a race around it. The track encircling a lake is in a sporting precinct and is surrounded by cricket ovals.
“I played Aussie rules football and cricket on some of the ovals that are now the paddock, so (it is) very special to be at home this weekend,” he said. “But the last time I raced in Australia, I was still in go-karts. I think it was seven years ago now. (It will be) nice to get out on the race track in Australia.”
A boost in ticket sales for the race
Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott estimates Piastri´s appearance on the grid has boosted ticket sales for the weekend by 10%.
Piastri is seeking to break a curse for Australian drivers in their home race, with none of his compatriots posting a podium finish since the inception of the Australian Grand Prix in 1985.
Ricciardo, who is at Albert Park as a reserve driver for Championship leader Red Bull this weekend, finished in second position on the track behind Nico Rosberg on his debut in 2014. But hours later he was disqualified after stewards found his Red Bull had exceeded the legal fuel flow rate.
Piastri has modest ambitions for Sunday, saying the McLarens driven by himself and teammate Lando Norris will be seeking a top-10 finish.
McLaren has endured a difficult start to the season. Piastri retired in the opening race in Bahrain, while Norris finished 17th. Piastri impressed in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in mid-March, finishing eighth.
Piastri seeking improved race craft
But an opening-lap mishap with his teammate Norris bounced the pair out of the points, with Piastri finishing in 15th position, two spots ahead of the Englishman.
“Qualifying, especially, gave me a lot of confidence that the way that we´re working is the right way,” Piastri said Thursday. “I think (in) the first lap, I probably could have done a few things differently and maybe kept myself out of trouble a bit better.
“But I think for the rest of the race, it is nice to get a race distance under my belt at least. And that leads to some learning and getting rid of some of the rust. Hopefully we can just have a clean race and that my front wing doesn´t wipe out Lando this time.”
McLaren has flagged development plans in the break between the Australian Grand Prix and the next race in Azerbaijan on April 30.
New team principal Andrea Stella said on Thursday a major upgrade is also planned for the month-long break after Round 13 of the season in Belgium in late July.
“We would expect, definitely, another major upgrade which will interest more areas of the car and will be more apparent,” he said. (Associated Press)