Despite Formula 2 returning after a two-month break, Oscar Piastri continued his recent dominant displays in qualifying by securing a fourth consecutive pole position at the new Jeddah Corniche Street Circuit in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking after qualifying, Piastri told selected media including F1 Feeder Series, “The last lap I was very happy with. I think up until that point, I’d made a few mistakes. At a track like this, I think everyone is going to be making at least a couple of mistakes in the lap. It was a good lap and I’m very happy to get a fourth pole.”
The recent performances from Piastri have certainly put him in the driving seat for the championship and has now extended his lead to 40 points. He was asked whether this dominance has impacted his motivation.
“It definitely doesn’t lower my motivation to want to win because I think we are all here to win trophies at the end of the day.”
Piastri’s Prema teammate Robert Shwartzman was quickest in the Practice session earlier on Friday. Meanwhile, Piastri and fellow championship contender Guanyu Zhou were relatively off the pace in comparison. However, once qualifying started, Piastri illustrated that he had caught up and engaged in a battle throughout the session with both his Russian teammate Shwartzman (finished second) and ART’s Théo Pourchaire (finished third). He spoke about the nature of the track and the difficulties he found during his push for pole.
“Very, very difficult, especially in sector one. It’s basically to me very similar to Silverstone; Maggots and Becketts but with concrete walls on each side. It’s very tricky through there and then even the rest of the corners are. I think we have two corners in second gear and then the rest are in third or mostly fourth. For us [F2 drivers] that’s pretty remarkable. It definitely gets the adrenaline pumping and it will be interesting to see how the races are; whether we get any overtaking and whether the tyres hang on because with these soft compounds we’ve got and the hot temperatures it’s going to be tricky I think.”
Between the two-month break from Sochi to Jeddah, the Australian driver said that he had been “trying to learn and relearn so many different things” over the course of Friday’s sessions.
Despite being a new circuit that had only seen two practice sessions prior to the F2 qualifying, Piastri stated that he was “quite surprised this morning even just how much grip there was. It was already quite good.”
The Jeddah circuit is marketed as the quickest street circuit on the calendar and has certainly lived up to expectations already. One of the worries about its design was that its blind corners would result in dangerous incidents. Piastri spoke about this, saying, “I was quite surprised we didn’t have any yellow flags or red flags in qualifying but that was nice. It’s a very unique circuit, it’s not really something we’ve ever seen before. It adds in a bit more of a fear factor when you’ve got walls either side.”
Saturday afternoon will be the first opportunity for fans to witness racing at the new Jeddah circuit. Speaking to F1 Feeder Series, Piastri was asked what his thoughts were going into Saturday’s action considering that he would start in the middle of the pack in 10th place for the first Sprint Race.
“To be honest, I don’t think the track is really that narrow, especially at turn one. Monza turn one is definitely more prone to carnage. Also, none of us have raced for two and a half months so I’m hoping that we all remember what the brake pedal is at turn one.”
Pressure is off
After losing out to title rival and fellow Alpine Academy driver Guanyu Zhou for the second Alfa Romeo F1 seat for next year, his future was uncertain. However, during the break, Piastri was announced as the reserve driver for the Alpine F1 Team in the 2022 season. This security may certainly help Piastri capture the F2 title.
“I think the pressure release is more from not getting constantly asked what I’m doing next year. I knew before Sochi that things were lining up for next year anyway. Whilst I didn’t let you guys know that, I more or less knew what was happening for a long time. Now that it’s all out of the way, I think our timing of the announcement before F2 restarted was no coincidence. Now I can fully focus on F2.”
For the Australian, the aim now is to seal the F2 Championship and defeat his rival Guanyu Zhou. He spoke about how he is mentally tackling this goal.
“It is on my mind of course but the easiest way to put myself at ease is to get good results. The goal for this weekend was no different from any other weekend: try and get pole, score some decent points in the sprint races and then capitalise on the feature race. We’re off to a good start. The four points is very handy as well but there’s a lot more than four points to lose throughout the rest of the weekend so I need to stay sharp.”
With the first Sprint Race being a reverse grid for the top ten, Piastri will start in 10th. Australian driver Oscar Piastri leads the championship over fellow Alpine Academy driver and newest F1 graduate Guanyu Zhou by 40 points. Zhou will start 5th in the Sprint Race.
Sprint Race 1 starts on Saturday afternoon at 12:30 GMT (13:30 CET).
Sprint Race 2 starts on Saturday afternoon at 18:40 GMT (19:40 CET).
Feature Race starts on Sunday morning at 14:25 GMT (15:25 CET).
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd