After three races of Oscar Piastri’s rookie Formula 1 season, Zak Brown, the McLaren chief executive, made a bold statement about his driver.
“The indications are we’ve got a future world champion on our hands,” Brown said. “Oscar has been impressive since we’ve had him in the car. He’s very mature, very focused, very technical.”
Rather than feeling pressure from Brown’s words, Piastri, 22, who is from Australia, is motivated by them.
“It’s nice to have those comments, that Zak and the whole team have belief in me, and also that we’re not here to mess around, that that’s what we’re here to try and achieve,” Piastri said. “Granted, I also want to achieve that, probably even more so than Zak does.”
Piastri had a stellar junior career on his way to Formula 1, finishing second in the Formula 4 British championship in 2017 before winning the Formula Renault Eurocup two years later, followed in successive years by the Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles.
With no Formula 1 seat available last season, he became a reserve driver with Alpine.
After Fernando Alonso announced a year ago he would be leaving Alpine for Aston Martin at the end of the season, Alpine said Piastri would be its driver in 2023. Piastri denied it.
McLaren said it had an agreement with him, a dispute that was settled in September in favor of McLaren.
Following a difficult start to the year for McLaren, Piastri has had a strong rookie season.
Piastri has only awarded himself a “B grade” for what he has achieved. “There have just been a few too many mistakes for my liking,” he said.
Piastri recalled an error in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix that annoyed him. “I was on a decent lap, but I braked too late for Turn 10, missed the apex a little bit and then hit a wet part of the track,” he said. “It was game over from there. I was pretty frustrated with myself.”
“I always try, like everyone, to get the most out of what I’ve got available, and I just feel like at a few races this year, I’ve missed out on opportunities to capitalize.”
He has scored 36 points this season, finishing fourth in the British Grand Prix in July, fifth at the next race in Hungary and second in the Belgian sprint race six days later.
Despite a mistake in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, in which he crashed into a wall, Andrea Stella, the team principal, also spoke of Piastri’s potential.
“First of all, you see the speed,” Stella said. “Drivers who have the potential to become world championship material need to have a natural speed, which we saw straightaway.
“Then they need to have the head, with the capacity to use their talent, and Oscar keeps his head very clean of noise and disturbances. He has a strong attitude to learn because he doesn’t distract himself.”
Stella said this had become apparent as the car has become more competitive.
“So it’s his natural talent, with a capability to learn, and then he’s a good person, with a set of values, ethics, ethos,” he said. “It is these elements that are part of that world champion craft that we can see in Oscar.”
Piastri has a strong ally in Mark Webber, the former Red Bull driver, who is his manager.
Webber said Piastri was a driver who “sets an extremely high bar for himself, which has played a significant contribution to how much success he’s had up to this point in his career.”
Webber can understand why Brown and Stella are enamored with Piastri.
“People in the know, who are watching, are commenting that what they’re seeing is very, very unique,” he said. “That’s the most important thing in this industry, that the right people are loving what they’re seeing.”
Despite his age, Piastri is levelheaded enough not to get carried away with the enthusiasm building around him.
“The most pressure always comes from yourself,” he said. “In some ways, it makes dealing with external pressure easier, but it’s certainly nice for people to have that belief in me.”