McLaren Piastri

Piastri’s journey to F1: competition, consistency and controversy

In spite of the chaos that ensued on the internet regarding Oscar Piastri’s F1 plans for 2023, it is obvious that the 21-year-old Australian is a sought after commodity. Given his impressive rise in recent years, we decided to take the opportunity to go back through his journey on the road to F1 in order to have a full understanding of why he is valued so highly.

By Tyler Foster

Firstly, Piastri is of Italian-Australian descent and was born in the Australian city of Melbourne. Having started karting at the age of 9, he finished third in the Australian Kart Championship in 2015 at 14 years old before moving to the United Kingdom in 2016 to further his racing career. He finished sixth in the 2016 Karting World Championship in Bahrain, resulting in his graduation to single-seaters in 2017.

Debut in open-wheel racing

The start of Piastri’s meteoric rise through the ranks truly began when he debuted in single-seaters in the British Formula 4 Championship at 15 years old, where he finished second in the standings, beating Logan Sargeant in the process.

This resulted in another graduation for Piastri, this time to the Formula Renault Eurocup (now FRECA) for 2018, where once again he competed against Sargeant. However, this time Piastri struggled in comparison in the weaker Arden team and only finished eighth while his American rival Sargeant finished fourth with the championship-winning R-ace GP team.

Nevertheless, Piastri stayed in the series for a second year while Sargeant moved up to FIA Formula 3 with Carlin. This season, the Australian driver joined the proven R-ace GP team and, in doing so, massively improved and managed to win the championship by 7.5 points over current F3 driver Victor Martins. As a result of this success, Piastri was now a highly-sought after driver and subsequently graduated to FIA Formula 3 for 2020.

FIA Formula 3

Off the back of his first championship in junior motorsport, Piastri joined the Renault Sport Academy in January of 2020. This was followed up by his graduation to Formula 3 at the age of 18, where he partnered up with Mercedes Junior Frederik Vesti and his old rival Logan Sargeant in the dominant Prema team.

Piastri won the first race of the season at the Red Bull Ring ahead of Sargeant in second place, which set the tone for the rest of the campaign. The highlight of Piastri’s season was his two second place finishes in Hungary in Round 3, scoring big points to support his championship campaign. 

All three Prema drivers, as well as the super 16-year-old Théo Pourchaire, fought closely for the title. The consistency of all of them resulted in a title showdown between the four drivers for the final round at Mugello. While Pourchaire finished on the podium twice that weekend, and Vesti won the Feature Race, Sargeant was unlucky and failed to score big meaning that Piastri’s P7 in the Sprint Race was enough for the title. 

Piastri won the championship by just 3 points over Pourchaire and just 4 points over his rival Logan Sargeant. Plus, the now 19-year-old had done this as a rookie while Sargeant had been in his second season in FIA F3. As a reward, he was one of the three drivers chosen for Renault to take part in the young drivers test in late October 2020 in Bahrain whereby Piastri got his first taste of Formula One machinery.

FIA Formula 2

Following on from his second championship victory in two years, Piastri entered the 2021 campaign as a rookie in Formula 2, once again with the dominant Prema team. The Italian outfit had just come off the back of a 2020 F2 season where Mick Schumacher had won the drivers’ title with them while teammate Robert Schwartzman had helped earn them the teams’ title as well. With Schumacher moving on to join Haas in F1, Piastri joined up with Schwartzman for Prema’s 2021 lineup.

Piastri started strongly, winning the second race of the season in Bahrain. After the first couple rounds, however, it seemed that the favourite was Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou who was in his sophomore season in F2. Zhou won the first feature race in Bahrain after scoring pole there and followed this up with another win in Monaco. However, Piastri picked up two second place finishes in the principality to keep the championship battle close.

For Piastri, the key to success was his consistency. Other than his maiden F2 Feature Race in Bahrain where he retired, Piastri finished on the podium in all seven following Feature Races. In the second half of the season, it was utter domination from both Piastri and Prema. Following the halfway point in the season, the Australian took pole position in all five remaining rounds, and with a pole/win conversion rate of 80%, he won the final four Feature Races. With six race victories across the season and a further five podium finishes, Piastri stormed to the F2 championship in style by a comfortable 60.5 points margin over his Prema teammate Robert Shwartzman. 

Other than winning the drivers’ title in style, Piastri followed in Schumacher’s footsteps and helped Prema capture their second consecutive teams’ title. This was Piastri’s third consecutive drivers’ championship, two of which he won at the first time of asking. It was now only a matter of time for him to head to F1…

Alpine Academy

With Renault rebranding themselves as Alpine in 2021, Piastri remained a part of the newly named Alpine Academy (effectively the Renault works F1 Junior Team). Having joined them a few months after his Formula 3 Title, by the end of 2021, Piastri had been with the Enstone team for two years and was looking at making his way into F1 alongside fellow F2 rookie championship winners Charles Leclerc and George Russell. 

However, there was unfortunately a major obstacle in the way of the young Aussie’s deserved graduation to F1. With two-time world champion Fernando Alonso having returned to F1 in 2021 with Alpine, the French outfit had two drivers (Alonso and Ocon) penned to contracts that would subsequently keep Piastri out of the Alpine team for 2022. Along with Piastri’s F2 title rival and fellow ex-Alpine Academy member Guanyu Zhou signing with Alfa Romeo, no further seats in were available in F1 for the reigning F2 champion. This meant that the 21-year-old had to sit on the sidelines as the Alpine Reserve Driver for the entire season, similar to Esteban Ocon with Mercedes after he was released from Racing Point back in 2019.

Not all hope was lost, however, as Alonso’s contract with Alpine was set to expire at the end of 2022 which offered the opportunity for Piastri to take over from the experienced Spaniard for the 2023 season. Despite this potential situation, no comments had been made from Alonso or Alpine that hinted he would be parting ways with the team. This led many to speculate that Piastri’s manager, fellow Aussie and F1 race winner Mark Webber, took the initiative and signed a deal with McLaren for 2023 to replace fellow Italian-Australian Daniel Ricciardo. 

Then out of nowhere, the Sebastian Vettel retirement announcement resulted in major controversy. With Vettel leaving Formula 1 for good at the end of the current 2022 season, this now left a race seat available at the Aston Martin team. Considering his age and situation, Fernando Alonso made the decision to sign with Aston Martin and leave Alpine at the end of this year. This was unexpected, but left Alpine with their dream scenario. Now the French team can finally promote their young academy star, Oscar Piastri, to the official race seat that was left vacated by Alonso’s departure.

Controversy and its conclusion

Things in Formula 1 are rarely this simple however. Alpine made the announcement on Twitter that Piastri would be promoted and join Esteban Ocon as the second of the team’s 2023 race drivers. Within an hour, Piastri tweeted in response that this was not the case and that he “will not be driving for Alpine next year”. What followed was a meltdown on social media where too many theories to count were discussed regarding exactly where Piastri would race for 2023.

Ultimately, it is now clear that an agreement between Piastri and McLaren had been made on the 4th of July this year for the 21-year-old to take over from Daniel Ricciardo at the end of this current season. Whether Ricciardo was in the know or not is a different story, but it is now confirmed that Piastri and his team made the decision to go with McLaren over Alpine. This is certainly a bold call from someone who hasn’t even yet made an appearance in an FP1 session yet, but only time will tell whether this decision helps progress Piastri’s career or if it leads to more controversy down the line.

Header Photo Credit: McLaren


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