With the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship looming, big questions surround how well Oscar Piastri – the 21-year-old Australian young gun who’s replacing Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren – will perform, considering how much Ricciardo struggled at the team.
Daniel Ricciardo’s failure to launch at McLaren has been one of the biggest head-scratchers in recent Formula 1 memory. Expectations, then, are understandably high for Oscar Piastri for his maiden year in F1, who’ll face natural comparisons against his fellow countryman and predecessor.
But in a recent press conference, Piastri explains he’s not stressed about his looming F1 debut and has argued that the range of different vehicles he’s driven (and succeeded with) during his impressive junior motorsport career means that he’s got what it takes to be immediately successful with new machinery as well as do what Ricciardo couldn’t.
“I think, firstly, it’s obviously a shame that things didn’t work out between the team and Daniel, but I think for me personally, I’m not concerned about a lack of experience,” Piastri told F1 press earlier this week.
“Through my junior career, I’ve had to change car every single year – I’ve never driven the same car for more than a year. I think adaptation is a big strength that you need in the junior categories, and I think that’s been prominent in [my career].”Oscar Piastri
“As a driver, you always need to adapt; there’s always going to be certain things that are maybe not going to suit you quite as well as you want. You always want more grip and more power! I think there’s always some limitations, it’s just how you can drive around those,” Piastri says.
Piastri might be unproven in F1 but he’s got one hell of a point. Remember, he won 3 titles in 3 years – the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup, the 2020 Formula 3 Championship and the 2021 Formula 2 Championship, all of which he pulled off in his rookie years in each category. Clearly, adjusting to radically different machinery doesn’t faze him.
He might have cooled his heels a bit last year but he still got valuable time testing F1 cars with Alpine as well as with McLaren, so as brief as it is, he’s also got a bit of experience driving different F1 cars, too.
Another thing going for Piastri is his age. When Ricciardo started with McLaren, he was 31 and had already spent a decade in F1. Unlike younger drivers like Norris and Piastri, who have ‘grown up’ putting in heavy hours in simulators and are therefore more amenable to tweaking and adapting to different racing setups, Ricciardo comes from a different era of racing.
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Despite returning to his race-winning ways during his first season with McLaren with a spectacular victory at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix (gifting McLaren their first and only win since 2012), Ricciardo was comprehensively outperformed by Norris during his two years at McLaren.
Ricciardo’s failure to launch at McLaren has had many fans and experts alike ponder whether there’s something fundamentally flawed about the way McLaren sets up their cars… Or whether ‘The Honey Badger’ has lost his magic.
Now all eyes are on Piastri, to see if he’ll be able to do what Ricciardo couldn’t (and Lando Norris seems to be able to do pretty consistently): wring some performance out of a McLaren.