Oscar Piastri, Lando Norris, McLaren, Zandvoort, 2023

Strong second half of Piastri’s debut season will put Norris on alert for 2024

2023 F1 team mates head-to-head

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Were the lengths McLaren went to prise Oscar Piastri from Alpine’s grasp last year justified by his performance for them as a rookie this year?

This is not a question which requires answer in essay form: Yes, he did. Spectacularly so.

The combination of Lando Norris’ speed and the particular handling characteristics of the McLaren had proved too much for Piastri’s predecessor. Daniel Ricciardo was shown the door a year early after it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to get on terms with his team mate.

Piastri was on the wrong side of the 15-7 scoreline between him and Norris, which matched the better of Ricciardo’s two seasons at the team. With a year’s experience behind him better thing will be expected next year. Norris, by his own, repeated and self-flagellating admissions, made a few costly errors during qualifying sessions this year, notably at the finale in Yas Marina. Having a first-year team mate increasingly breathing down his next can’t have helped matters.

With Piastri often qualifying close to Norris and sometimes ahead of him, the team often had to manage interactions between their drivers on race day. As Piastri hasn’t yet mastered the technique of keeping his rubber alive as long as Norris, this occasionally meant the team chose to manoeuvre Norris ahead. This was occasionally done on-track, but at other times he was given a preferential pit stop before his team mate to get him ahead. At Monza this led to a perilously close moment between the pair at the Rettifilo.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Yas Marina, 2023
Piastri couldn’t always sustain the high places he qualified in
That aside the pair seldom compromised each other, aside from the freak circumstances in Jeddah, where Norris hit debris shed by his team mate’s car.

While Piastri ended his first season with less than half his team mate’s points score, that figure deserves some context. Not only were many circuits unfamiliar to Piastri, but Norris also got his hands on McLaren’s two game-changing upgrades before his team mate, in Austria and Singapore.

Over the second half of the season, Piastri actually out-qualified Norris 6-5. During that time he scored McLaren’s sole victory of the season, albeit only in a sprint race, at Losail International Circuit. A more experienced Piastri will surely be an even more potent threat to Norris next year, and given the progress McLaren made this season they could even emerge as the closest challengers to Red Bull.

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Unrepresentative comparisons omitted. Negative value: Norris was faster; Positive value: Piastri was faster

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Strong second half of Piastri’s debut season will put Norris on alert for 2024”

  1. The last races i found Oscar a bit under performing compaired with his begin of the second half. It’s because of Lando getting more into the car or Oscar having problems with the lond season. Still it was a strong rookie season.

    1. typo must be LONG season

  2. Piastri was seriously impressive. Not just his racing but his attitude. His calm demeanour and ability to almost emotionally detatch himself made him look like a seasoned driver, not a young rookie. I think (hope!) Mclaren will have a pairing who really push each other, let’s just hope it’s not into a wall! I love Lando (I have a few Lando t-shirts, he’s the only driver I tend to ‘wear’) but Piastri could be the de-facto number 1 driver at Mclaren as his abilities improve and his race-craft develops. Lando is a very emotional driver and that makes him exciting to watch, but it could also be something that hurts him. Piastri seems like a driver who’ll take bad luck/decisions on the chin and refocus on the next race.

    They seem to be great team mates too, but if the Mclaren finds itself challenging for victories then that might change. It’s one thing playing the team game for 4th in the championship, but allure of being immortalised by wins is surely another thing. It feels like Lando should already be a winner (Sochi, 2021), I really hope he gets a race victory in 2024. I would love to see another Mclaren world champion.

    1. Was kind of hoping Piastri would be that generational talent that Max is given his meteoric rise to F1.

      What I’d give to see Norris in the second Red Bull next year just to get an understanding of where he’s at. He could be even better than Max but we’ll just never know…

      The relatively team driver rosters is really making F1 a bit boring. Give them a 5 year limit with each team or something. It’s be as arbitrary as any other rule out there.

      1. Whoops that was not meant to be a reply sorry.

      2. He could be even better than Max but we’ll just never know

        I seriously doubt that. Even if he starts matching Max on raw pace, there’s no way he will have the mental toughness and racecraft maturity of Max.

      3. Norris indeed to me looks like the only one who can match verstappen with the same car, if he cuts the mistakes under pressure ofc, as he lost a few win\pole chances so far.

  3. I feel this summary overrates piastri a bit – his race pace was frequently pretty rubbish compared with Norris. Sure he’s a rookie but the best of the best always seem to shine as rookies. Of all the champions in recent years have there been any that were mediocre rookies? Button was a bit hot and cold in 2000 (he was so young though) but every other champion I can think of in the past 30 years or so basically walked into the sport on fire.

    So I reserve judgement on Piastri.

    1. I agree @frood19. While Piastri has been good, and occasionally very good indeed, during his rookie season, he’s not quite the second coming of Fangio that a lot of people are making him out to be. He’s got a great base to build from, but he needs to kick on next season.

      1. I wouldn’t rate Piastri’s rookie season any better than Leclerc’s rookie season. Heck, I wouldn’t rate it as high as Lando’s rookie season either.

        He’s definitely being hyped up a lot here.. maybe its because of that Sprint win, which shows he has the potential to be awesome.. even though the rookie season wasn’t all that awesome in itself.

      2. consistency is what hurts his season abit but his peaks suggest you cannot rule out anything after his rookie season, because consistency may or probably will improve with experience.

        1. I’m thinking a lot of the critical commentary around OP81 is in comparison to LN4 raw pace and peak race pace (which was more consistently closer than DR3 managed in the previous year), noting that most critical commentary notes his race tyre management was poor which contributed to his poor overall race pace. Other data pointing to the challenges of the recent McLaren cars points towards being the most promising 1st year driver since the 2018/2019 tranche of CL16/GR63/AA23/LN4.

          It’s the broader complete package and also the commentary coming from the team that has added to the hype – Andrea Stella has been very positive about his approach to learning and building his speed and that he’s not really found his peak point yet. The fact that Alpine and McLaren went to legal war over his services. His cautious critique of his driving that reminds me of good corporate messaging around Lessons Learnt. How he does just ‘get on with it.’ Things like that create the ‘hype’. I look forward to seeing what happens next year.

          I remember that there was this ‘hype’ around LH44/MV33 when they started in F1, since they were both drivers that dominated their early years. OP81 was nothing like that in lower formulae, it was only his chain of FREC, F3 championships (where he was not a dominant champion) and then F2 (where he was on pole for the second half of the season and was very strong against a good mix of experienced and new competition, that made the F1 paddock sit up.

          It’s fair to say that maybe his F1 year was not as impactful as LN4’s first year. It’s also fair to say that he more than deserves his F1 seat, more than any other recent graduate to F1 since 2019 (NL6, NM9, MS47, YT22, ZG24, NDV21 and LS2). His second year will be interesting, he has a year of track knowledge now, and the expectation would be to continue getting closer to LN4’s pace in qualifying, and his tyre management in the race.

          1. Well done for stretching that comment out so that you can list almost the whole field in those neat code names there! I only had to google NM9 so I’m proud of myself too!

          2. His qualifying pace is close and his race pace in lower deg tracks/conditions is already almost the same as Lando, which tells you he’s got really good raw pace.

  4. Norris often seemed quite unhappy. I hope he finds more joy next year.

  5. Those numbers are a bit surprising, I was under the impression it was closer between the two of them.

    Piastri did enough for his rookie season and was definitely an improvement over Ricciardo, but he will want to push those numbers closer to the 50/50 split soon. Especially as the status of Norris is inevitably going to be adjusted now that he is no longer driving circles around a former race winner every other week.

    1. it says in the article the numbers don’t provide full story, it’s closer than the numbers suggest.

      1. Its not really closer to be honest. Lando was generally faster in qualifying, just made some errors pushing the car to chase Max, and had a very clear pace advantage in the race that wasn’t just down to tyre management. In the Qatar race where nobody was managing tyres because of the maximum stint lengths, Lando was significantly faster despite having to pass a lot of traffic and only finished behind because McLaren ordered him to hold station when he caught Piastri with around 20 laps to go. In Abu Dhabi, Lando was past him and pulled away within 3 laps of the start without any team orders being in play. The gap between him and Lando didn’t get any smaller from the start of the season to the end.

  6. Robert Henning
    7th December 2023, 9:38

    These Pirellis are horrible for racing. Oscar is showing good potential. If he can take one more step it’ll be a good battle at McLaren.

  7. I see Piastri as a very Prost like driver. Seems to be calm and studious.

    Can’t see him not improving in his second season providing he gets a decent set of tools to work with which will be the big unanswered question until season 2024 kicks off.

    Lando certainly has speed, but he’s prone to making errors, not a bad thing in itself as it demonstrates a will to get right to the edge, but it will be interesting indeed if his team mate continues to improve.

    It’d be fantastic if they had the tools to properly challenge RBR but I just don’t see that happening. They are however a great combination that could well challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for second in the WCC.

  8. Stephen Taylor
    7th December 2023, 11:27

    Classic media stuff this . They build Norris up for two years only to start knocking him down Hmmm Keith the Monza pit stop for Norris was not made to undercut Piastri it was made to protect from Alonso and maximise . I really don’t like the undercurrent of implying deliberate favouritism by McLaren towards Norris to hinder Piastri in that remark . I also don’t like the fact there is very little mentions of the good things. Yes Lando needs to sort qualy out but the second half of this season is probably one of the closest things he’s had to regular front running car. Of course next season will be tough but I really don’t like this ‘Next season Norris is doomed’ tone this article is giving off. Even if that wasn’t Keith’s intention that is just the vibe I get from the article.

    1. Absolutely. In recent races, Norris has been the closest competitor to Verstappen more often than not. I feel that people use the fact that Norris is self-effacing to a fault as a stick to beat him with. When in reality he’s just his own harshest critic.

      1. Well said, David…totally agree. Since the upgrades in Austria, no one was a more consistent threat to Verstappen than Norris. I think plenty more to come from Lando as well. He developed a lot in terms of racecraft in 2023.

  9. Lando had more second places in 2023 than any other driver. It was a huge effort, but he is in danger of becoming the Chris Amon of the 2020s. He must win soon, both for himself and Mclaren.

    Meanwhile, he has found another teamate who has won something for Mclaren before he has. Wasn’t Oscar’s win in Qatar the first Time Mclaren won a sprint race? And ontop of Dan’s win at Monza,….

    Oscar was almost brilliant this year. After a year without a drive, and only one year in F2, it was seriously good debut in F1. He was clearly slower than Lando at some circuits, but the margin wasnt big and the way he builds speed over a weekend arguably pushed Lando into some of the qualifying errors he was making.

    Like DB-C90, I found myself comparing Oscar to Prost, but some of the passes he makes remind me of early Alonso. I’m going to enjoy watching him next year.

  10. It’s starting to feel like some media outlets formed an opinion early on that it was going to be Oscar Piastri: Wonder Rookie, and that perception has stuck despite the actual reality of the situation.

    This piece is a good example. It feels very unbalanced in terms of over-egging Piastri somewhat while choosing to ignore Norris’s excellent performances in the latter part of the season. You talk about the head to heads not giving context to Piastri but then quote the 6-5 qualifying in the latter part of the season without giving context on Norris’s side.

    You want to talk context, well let’s do so in a balanced manner. That 6-5 qualifying score was down the mistakes Lando made pushing the car to the edge to try and compete with the RB when it’s not quite there, not because Piastri was the faster driver. Everywhere except Monza and Spa (although they ran different set-ups there as McLaren split their strategy in qualifying to try and get a result from a track they knew they would struggle at so there’s no saying how that affected things), Norris had Piastri’s qualifying pace well-covered. Norris just made errors chasing Max’s pole times – more mistakes happen when drivers hang a difficult to handle car right out on the edge. Even Max made quali errors this year. Those mistakes are on Norris of course, but he wasn’t pushed into them because Piastri was supposedly right on his tail, because he rarely was. He was generally 1.5-2 tenths behind, sometimes more, before Norris made the errors. In the final race Piastri on brand new tyres only just beat the time Norris had put in on used tyres by 0.034s. Norris, conversely, had the pace to potentially take pole.

    In the races, Qatar sprint aside where he was aided greatly by half of it being under the safety car and Max & Lando getting stuck behind the soft tyre runners, I can’t think of another race where Piastri was particularly close to Norris in race pace. Spa sprint, yes, but that could easily have been down to the set-up differences again. Monza they both got stuck behind Albon but Norris was adamant he was faster and was being held up, and given the trend across the season, it’s fair to assume that was true. In the races where Piastri started stints close to Lando’s pace, it was because he was cooking his tyres too early and without exception his pace fell away before long while Lando was looking after his tyres – even Silverstone, a low-deg race, Piastri’s laptimes started to fall off a lot in the few laps before he had to be pitted early, whereas Lando was still pumping in consistent laptimes several laps later. It wasn’t just tyres either. In the main Qatar race, Piastri got lucky that Hamilton took out Russell and hampered Leclerc & Alonso, allowing Piastri to sail through into the clean air of P2. Nobody was looking after tyres due to the stint length restrictions imposed, yet Lando was still considerably faster despite no tyre management being needed and Lando having to run in dirty air for half the race while working his way past Perez, Alonso and both Ferraris among others. The only reason Piastri finished ahead in the race was McLaren gave team orders to Norris to hold station for the last 20 laps once he’d caught Piastri up. In Abu Dhabi, Norris was past Piastri without team orders by lap 3 and easily pulled away. Ignoring Norris’s outstanding race drives in the latter half of the season is very disingenuous. Part of the reason Piastri couldn’t get close was the tyre wear but sometimes it was also that Norris was just THAT good. Nothing demonstrated the race gulf between them more than Mexico.

    Piastri had an excellent rookie season but it was no more outstanding imo than the likes of Leclerc (who demolished Ericsson at Sauber and earned promotion to Ferrari at the end of the year), Russell (who almost whitewashed Kubica in the applling 2019 Williams) and Norris (who beat Sainz, hardly a quali slouch himself, in the quali head 2 head and put in some exception races in a very midfield McLaren, including what would have been a certain P4 in Spa had his car not broken down on the final lap). Piastri’s results look more flashy because he’s had the great fortune of having a much better car than any of them did. In fact when you take the number of races into account as well, both Leclerc and Norris also had podiums within the same number of races that Piastri did, and Norris in particular was in slower car. I also can’t think of any race this year where Piastri put in the kind of outstanding race performance that we saw from the likes of Charles and Lando occasionally early on, like Charles driving that 2018 Sauber to points and instantly outperforming Vettel in a Ferrari in 2019 (within the same number of races Piatri has already completed), or Norris being a last lap broken engine away from taking P4 in Spa in the very-mid 2019 McLaren or that Last Lap Lando performance for his first podium in Austria in 2020 (within the same number of races Piastri has already completed) Or even George putting in the first time he stepped into that Merc in 2020. Not to mention Max stepping into the Red Bull and winning his very first race for the team.

    Also to note, Piastri had an extensive testing programme with Alpine in 2021 (amounting to 1000+laps on track plus an extensive sim programme) and also extra track testing & extensive sim time pre-season with McLaren. He was the best prepared rookie since Hamilton but people are ignoring that and acting like he came in as green as Logan Sargeant did (which also makes the comparisons between him and Sargeant very unfair, as Sargeant really did come in with almost no preparation).

    So there you are, some context from the opposite angle.

    It remains to be seen how much Piastri will develop next year. As a McLaren fan, I’m looking forward to seeing how he does as having two top quality drivers is exactly what we need after the awful Ricciardo years. However quali pace doesn’t usually exponentially improve after a driver’s rookie year, the best generally pretty much show their pace in their first year and if Norris can iron out his mistakes, then Piastri will stop getting the cheap quali victories handed to him on a plate and will need to find a bit more speed to regularly be on par. And he has an awful lot still to do on race pace, especially when you take into account that Norris also has areas he says he will be working to improve on for next year, and if he finally gets that first race win there is a very real possibility that that weight could lift off his shoulders. I expect and hope for them to be pushing each other to greater heights as that will only be good for the team, but I haven’t seen any evidence as yet that convinces me that Piastri will outstrip Norris and leave him in the shade.

    1. Umm… fast pace is useless if you keep making mistakes. It could easily be argued that the pressure Oscar is applying with his quali pace is forcing Lando to push harder and make mistakes.

      Need to be fast and keep it on track. Otherwise no point even being out there.

      1. Stephen Taylor
        8th December 2023, 15:52

        But this article doesn’t give Norris due credit for his race performance this season . The tendency of this article to only focus on the Norris in a negative way is infuriating . Nobody is denying he’s made some mistakes this year . This is a guy who has had to wait 5 years just to start challenging for regular podiums on different types of circuit.

      2. It’s called nuance, Rhys. He wasn’t making those mistakes because Piastri was pushing him. He generally wasn’t when Norris made the mistakes, with maybe a couple of exceptions Lando had a clear pace advantage over Piastri in qualifying. He made the mistakes because he was trying to wring something out of the car that wasn’t really there to try and make up the deficit to Max. We saw Leclerc doing something similar early in the season when he also made several mistakes in qualifying. Lewis and George made similar mistakes trying to wring everything out of their cars as well. It’s what happens when drivers are trying to push the cars to their limits. Lando had a truly competitive car for the first time in his career and is chasing his first win, and his best chance of that against a dominant car like the RB was to push all out for pole. He did seem to be driving overdriving because of that at times, he even admitted that himself.

        The media narrative that the mistakes were because of Piastri are the issue here. The mistakes are on Lando of course, but the reason he made them only becomes Oscar if you are trying, as this writer is and you are, to push the narrative that Oscar was right on his tails which he generally wasn’t. Norris had his pace covered at most tracks. If Norris learns to dial it back to 99.9% instead of 100%, as Leclerc did toward the end of the year, then Piastri won’t get handed qualifying positions on a plate like he did this year and will actually have to find some extra speed, and to do that he will have to start pushing the car harder and guess what happens when drivers do that…

    2. Henry Williams
      8th December 2023, 8:54

      ok, but what is the point of being faster if you can’t string a lap together, he may need to cut down some pace to stop making mistakes and quali will be toss up in terms of pace.

    3. Henry Williams
      8th December 2023, 9:13

      are you ignoring japan? that’s three times then, and those other 3 it was about less than a tenth difference before the mistakes lando made because lets not forget oscar left some time on the table as well in his final Q3 lap in AD, mistake at the chicane and at final corner, it was only less than a tenth difference in lando’s favour if you correct for mistakes made by both drivers on those laps. also qatar was also only a 0.1s difference in favour of lando before he made a mistake at final corner if you take sprint shootout times(as no lap times were deleted), mexico before mistake by lando in Q1 lando was only up on oscar by just under a tenth. so lets not pretend lando is alot faster when he’s making these mistakes, on balance it’s pretty even with lando maybe having the slight edge, a tenth or just less than a tenth.

      1. Stephen Taylor
        8th December 2023, 15:36

        Quali pace yes . Race pace Norris was a lot better and the race is where the points are given

      2. Stephen Taylor
        8th December 2023, 15:39

        Erm Lando was 0.3 up on Piastri’s Sprint Shootout in Qatar before his error.

        1. Henry Williams
          9th December 2023, 1:09

          no it was 0.1s, lando was 0.3s up on max before final corner and piastri when he completed his lap was 2 tenths ahead of max. so that works to be 0.1s.

          1. Piastri was not faster than Verstappen after S2

      3. Japan – Norris clonked a kerb in the final sector, he was almost 2 tenths up on Piastri before that over two sectors.
        Abu Dhabi was not as close as you are making out, before Oscar’s error Norris was 1.5 tenths up in two sectors
        Qatar – Norris was almost three tenths up before his error in the sprint shootout and about the same in the race shootout (where he actually lost time through the final track limits error rather than gaining it, which is why Lewis said in the post qualifying press conference that Lando should not have lost his time).
        Mexico – he was a tenth up in ONE sector. Gaps increase across the sectors.

        Over the course of the season Piastri was on average 2 tenths down on Norris in qualifying in sectors when they both put in representative times. That didn’t change from the start of the season to the end.

        Let’s stop trying to pretend Piastri was closer than he actually was.

        Not to mention his race pace, which was not just down to tyre wear.

        1. Henry Williams
          9th December 2023, 1:20

          i’ve looked on telemetry, he was a tenth down on lando before he made his mistake in the final sector in mexico, lando was 3 tenths clear of max before final corner in qatar, piastri completes the lap and is 2 tenths ahead of max so it was only a tenth in sprint shootout, in japan the gap was literally only 0.03s in favour of lando before the final chicane in japan, look at the telemetry. piastri makes a mistake into the chicane at AD loses about 0.15s and then loses about 2 tenths on the final corner, so oscar had about 0.35s time in the bag without mistakes. those are just the facts based on telemetry, you choose to ignore them if you wish.

          1. Henry Williams
            9th December 2023, 4:25

            sorry, maybe not 0.35 in AD but 0.3

        2. Henry Williams
          9th December 2023, 1:31

          I understand the bias, it’s the case for most fans of a driver, when you make excuses for your driver, atleast make the context surrounding those errors abit more accurate, there’s telemetry on the internet, f1tempo, i suggest you look at that.

  11. Stephen Taylor
    8th December 2023, 15:45

    Sorry Rhys but i’m going to agree with the post above . The pressure from Oscar isn’t the biggest problem the pressure from Lando puts on himself is his biggest enemy.

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