‘In an ideal world it would have been a simpler debut’: Piastri talks to RaceFans


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Before Oscar Piastri even set foot in the Formula 1 paddock as an official McLaren racing driver, his name was all over the news.

The 2021 Formula 2 champion found himself in an ugly and public spat with Alpine after sensationally announcing on social media he would not race for them in 2023, just hours after the team announced him as their new driver. Instead, he decided to take a seat with McLaren, replacing the underperforming Daniel Ricciardo.

Facing unrealistic expectations from some quarters, driven in part by his impressive run of junior series titles from 2019 to 2021, and tasked with replacing an experienced and popular driver, Piastri hoped to put the off-track drama aside and begin his career as an F1 driver. But what followed was anything but smooth sailing.

In his rookie year Piastri has battled through more than most in just a few months. Over seven races he has had to deal with mechanical failures, unexpected clashes and food poisoning. He’s had to cope with all that in a car which refuses to work under certain conditions and at certain tracks, which prompted McLaren to shake up its technical division.

Piastri said he survived Baku weekend on four pieces of toast
Regardless, Piastri has worked hard and impressed the team with his perseverance, notably when put to the test in Baku. He battled through a bout of food poisoning, saying only at the time it had been “quite the physical journey for the last 24 hours”, while the consequent lack of sleep left him badly fatigued.

After crossing the line tenth after the Azerbaijan sprint race, Piastri’s engineer Tom Stallard came over the radio to praise his “bloody impressive” performance during a gruelling weekend.

“I think dealing with those things is definitely part of what makes you a champion, Piastri told RaceFans in an exclusive interview at the Monaco Grand Prix. “That consistency, and not being fazed by much.

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“Through my junior career, it’s been a bit of a strength of mine as well. So I think hopefully at the moment that’s carrying through. It’s been a challenge but I’m proud of how I’ve got through it all.”

Qualifying went well for Piastri in Jeddah, the race less so
Piastri started the season on the back foot in Bahrain where his debut lasted just 14 laps – a frustrating outcome for a driver who’d spent 2022 waiting to get back into an F1 car. Starting 18th he gained three places early in the race, but after he reported a gearbox fault McLaren called him into the pits. Attempts to remedy the problem with a replacement steering wheel were unsuccessful, and his grand prix debut was over.

He impressed in his second F1 qualifying session in Jeddah, making his first Q3 appearance and claiming ninth on the grid. But his second race went less well: He nudged AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, the contact damaged the McLaren’s front wing and Piastri was forced to pit early to change it. Making matters worse, his team mate Lando Norris hit his debris on the next lap, which ruined his race too.

He needed a result, and got it at the next race on in his home city, Melbourne. He wowed the crowds and thrilled his friends and family by scoring his first points by staying out of trouble as the race ended with a chaotic late restart.

Then came Azerbaijan where, despite overcoming his food poisoning, he left point-less. Bad luck struck in Miami a week later where a “major failure” on the brake-by-wire system cost Piastri any chance of further points.

Amid the mounting frustrations, Piastri has kept his cool. “I certainly haven’t thrown tantrums or anything like that,” he says. “I know that stuff happens in motorsport all the time.

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“It’s challenging but I think everybody goes through it at some stage in their career. I just wasn’t expecting to be quite so soon.

He dodged Melbourne restart dramas for first point at home
“Up until the Sunday [of a race weekend] it’s been quite good and I feel like I’ve been doing pretty well. I think a lot has been thrown at me, there’s not much you can do about the mechanical failures and food poisoning.

“I’ve managed to get through all those things, [while] keeping my head up high [and remaining] highly motivated.”

He drew confidence from his trying weekend in Azerbaijan. “After Baku, I was more sleep deprived than anything. I think going through all of that and being able to survive it and still be at Baku and have a pretty good result, all things considered, I think is a bit of a confidence boost for myself.”

However he admits that “in an ideal world” his debut so far “would have been a bit of a simpler one.

“But I think you’re going to have issues throughout your whole lifelong career. If I can get them all out of the way early, then that would be nice.”

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Before we spoke in Monaco, Piastri received high praise from McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, who hailed his young driver a “future world champion” following the start of his F1 career. The American said they were “very impressed” with his progress so far and added that he was “very mature, very focused and very technical.”

Piastri admits his debut so far “could have been simpler”
Piastri says he’d like to “make the comments come true someday”. For now his performances have left him the top rookie of the season in the standings, up against two drivers who did not have the disadvantage of spending 2022 on the sidelines: Williams’ Logan Sargeant and AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries.

His predecessor Ricciardo – who RaceFans also spoke to in Monaco – had something of a ‘class clown’ reputation for his constant wisecracking, notwithstanding the seriousness with which he approached his racing. Piastri undoubtedly has the latter, while the quips are coming along.

Prompted for his thoughts on what is needed from him in order to fulfil Brown’s “future world champion” description, Piastri grins: “Being able to drive a car fast?”

“That’s probably the first one,” he continues, laying out a thoughtful response to the question. “There’s a lot of things.

“We know how much the car performance dictates the championships. But as a driver you can certainly have a lot of influence in that.

“Building the team around you, providing motivation for everybody, that’s something I’m learning about very, very much at the start of my career in F1. How that can make the difference with so many more people compared to the junior teams I’ve been with.

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“Being consistent is a very key one as well and even in my own junior championships, being able to maximise bad days is almost more important than on the good days.”

Perseverance “is definitely part of what makes you a champion”
Piastri left his homeland at the age of just 14, relocating to Hertford in the UK, and his arrival in F1 is the realisation of a long-held ambition. But the demands of F1’s ever-growing calendar leave time for little else, and he doesn’t take his limited downtime for granted.

“I try to spend as much time with my girlfriend as I can outside of the races,” he says. “She’s at university, so it’s difficult because we’re both quite busy but I spend a lot of time with her.

“I don’t have any family in the UK, which is where I live, so it’s a bit tricky from that point of view but at the same time we’re so busy with F1 that there’s not that much downtime anyway.”

Not long after we spoke on Thursday in Monaco, Piastri again demonstrated the skills which vindicated McLaren’s pursuit of him. He was one of only a handful of drivers to keep his original set of tyres on his car until the late rain arrived at the principality, meaning he profited from a well-timed change to intermediates, and after making way for Norris when asked, his reward was a hard-earned point for 10th place.

This weekend McLaren heads to a track which, on paper, looks like a difficult one for a car which isn’t at its best on long straights and slow corners. The team which finished third in the championship just three years ago, but has slipped back since, has plans to get its development programme back on course with an upgrade planned for the British Grand Prix. Until then, Piastri is prepared to be patient.

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“I think everyone here is very professional in the team and having a high level of motivation to try and get further up the grid,” he says. “We’re staying quite humble with that.

“We know we’re not fighting for wins and not where we want to be. So there’s a lot of determination, and humility, around where we are at the moment.”

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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7 comments on “‘In an ideal world it would have been a simpler debut’: Piastri talks to RaceFans”

  1. I think Piastri has an image problem in Australia (fyi I’m Australian). Australia loves motorsport and very few Aussies seem to make it to the very top of various categories. Webber and Ricciardo are incredibly popular here. Normally Australians would back the underdog and support a young driver like Piastri unconditionally.. but anyone that knows about his last minute switch from Alpine to McLaren probably looks at him quite differently.

    The reality is Piastri is still a kid, and we haven’t seen enough of him in F1 to really understand whether he’s going to be great or not. He’s obviously got the pedigree from junior formulas to suggest he could be very good, but I think the jury is still out on him for now. Beating other rookies isn’t saying much. Zak Brown labelling him as a “future world champion” also doesn’t mean a great deal. Piastri has to fulfil the potential he’s showed previously if he’s going to have a long career in F1.

    From McLaren’s perspective Piastri is an upgrade from Ricciardo. Piastri is much younger, could stay in the team for longer, and he’s on a rookie salary. In terms of his pace though his performances seem to be on par with what DR was doing in the second McLaren.. not any worse, but not any better either. Either way, Lando seems to be the quicker driver, and McLaren have a much larger challenge around building a competitive car to worry about.

    1. As a fellow Australian I agree Piastri has an image problem.
      I will say that Australian commercial Media coverage of F1 drivers here is always unfavourable, when any Aussie driver does poorly (even if its in a practice session) there are always headlines of “Weekend off to a nightmare start” or “out of his depth”. When a driver does well we hear nothing unless they win the race.
      I guess he also hasn’t done much to win over Australian motorsport fans, the running joke at the moment is that Bottas is the most Australian driver on the grid given his recent appearance at the Adelaide Motorsport festival, Mullet and penchant for VB branded singlets. I’m not aware of anything Piastri has done to raise his profile with Aussie fans however.
      Then there is his personality, there nothing to latch onto, no Ricciardo friendly jokester attitude or Webber’s bluntness. Piastri just seems like a focused professional racing driver, which I can respect but doesn’t do a lot to make him likeable.
      I will say that DTS did Piastri no favours, they made him look like he ruthlessly betrayed the Alpine team. The truth is he was looking for another seat like Alpine asked him to as they intended to run Alonso and Ocon, and then Alpine threw a bit of a hissy fit about the situation when they realised they stuffed up rather than just admitting their mistake.
      I’m hoping as Piastri becomes more established in the sport and becomes more likeable.

      1. Oscar will get a chance to impress lightweight oz media when he eventually gets some decent finishes – btw I think Otmar came off worse in DTS but maybe that’s just me.

  2. Henry Williams
    15th June 2023, 11:35

    But once the details of the contract saga were out, he was vindicated, alpine played alonso and piastri like fools, and they both left.

  3. Oscar made the right call choosing McLaren instead of Williams for his debut in 2023. But since his manager and Alonso are close friends, they should have arranged a better plan. Alpine was a better choice than McLaren in 2022 and Ocon is a better reference for your rookie year, since Lando is top-notch and there was some risk he could destroy your career since the very beginning (ask for Stoffel…).

    I think he should have spoken with Mark and Fernando about that second spot in Alpine and he should be enduring a far better rookie year. But I have still plenty of confidence in him, that F3/F2 run suggests there is a Leclerc/Russell race-winning maybe-championship-winning material in here.

    PS: another great piece, Claire.

    1. Alpine was a better choice than McLaren in 2022 and Ocon is a better reference for your rookie year, since Lando is top-notch …

      I’d have to disagree, I think there are 2 things you need as an F1 driver, a great car and to beat a respected team mate. Of all the options on the grid I think Oscar and Webber chose the right one. Of all the team mates Oscar could have been against, Norris was the only one who has any genuine respect and has been touted as a future world champ. If he was paired with Ocon or Albon any results he achieved wouldn’t be held in the same regard.

      I think Piastri has an image problem in Australia.

      As an Australian, I am refreshed to see a driver who doesn’t play to the VB drinking bogan crowd, but is focused on what he is there for and what he is trying to achieve. I also respect his confidence to back himself in the Alpine battle.

      I am interested to see how he and Norris develop as teammates as Oscar gets more experience. I think Oscar has a far better temperament than Norris which I think will give Oscar an advantage if they ever get a half decent race car.

      1. I think there are 2 things you need as an F1 driver, a great car and to beat a respected team mate

        I agree, you need that in your career. But do you need it in your first year? That’s my point. Albon, Gasly, Vandoorne… they all left or were close to leave after being paired with a top-notch driver in their rookie/sophomore year. I think pairing with Lando as a rookie was a risk. Alpine offered a better car and there were less options for your career to be destroyed. My point of view.

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