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F1 Rookie of the Year: How Oscar Piastri took the grid by storm

F1 Rookie of the Year: How Oscar Piastri took the grid by storm

F1 Rookie of the Year: How Oscar Piastri took the grid by storm

F1 Rookie of the Year: How Oscar Piastri took the grid by storm

The 2023 Formula 1 season has no shortage of candidates for the subjective best driver on the grid accolade with some sensational year-long performances from a host of drivers.

Max Verstappen rewrote the definition of dominance with his championship charge, Fernando Alonso rewound the clock by becoming a regular podium finisher, and Alex Albon single-handedly took Williams to their best finish in half a decade.

Yet, even among these top efforts from seasoned racers, it's the rookie campaign of Oscar Piastri that impressed me the most this season.

For many F1 fans heading into Bahrain, the young Australian was just a name that ignited the explosive 2022 silly season with a single tweet.

Oscar Piastri has been touted as a future F1 champion after his rookie performances
Oscar Piastri is the latest in the line of Australian speedsters to break into F1
Comparisons have been drawn between Oscar Piastri and Lewis Hamilton after their strong rookie years

Piastri's stellar debut season

By Abu Dhabi, Piastri has proved himself worthy of racing among the sport's best and doesn't look out of place when battling against headline names like Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen, or Alonso.

Zak Brown's willingness to go to court for a driver of unknown F1 quality has worked perfectly, with Piastri's late-season point-scoring ways massively contributing to McLaren's efforts to overturn their deficit to Aston Martin.

When the Woking-based squad unleashed their car upgrades at Silverstone, Piastri immediately began getting face time on the international TV broadcast by qualifying or finishing in the top three positions and became a fan favourite.

While compatriot and predecessor Daniel Ricciardo is well-known for his outlandish and smiley personality that adds to his likeability, Piastri's popularity comes closer to the Kimi Raikkonen style of media handling — i.e. no f***s given.

Piastri qualified on the second row in just his 10th Grand Prix weekend and gave such a relaxed interview as if the achievement was as significant as being congratulated for brushing his teeth.

It's no act for the F1 cameras or team radio, though, and those who have had the privilege of following the young racer's career before he reached the very top knew what a laid-back and incredibly fast talent F1 would welcome in 2023.

I've twice had the pleasure of extended time with Piastri after he followed Charles Leclerc and George Russell's footsteps of winning the Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships in consecutive seasons, and he's remained true to his younger self.

Oscar Piastri: The early years

As he prepared for his rookie, and ultimately title-winning, F2 season in 2021, Piastri was every bit as calm and unfazed as he is today, despite being partnered with the highest-finishing 2020 F2 rookie and 2019 F3 champ, Robert Shwartzman, at his PREMA team.

You might think he'd want to quickly get through the media obligations to focus on the gym or mentally prepare himself for his debut, but he insisted he had as much time to talk as necessary and charmed his way through an hour-long chat.

Days later, he was a Formula 2 race winner after a breathless Bahrain battle under the lights against fellow Alpine Academy drivers Zhou Guanyu and Christian Lundgaard, both with dozens more races of experience than Piastri.

READ MORE: Piastri flattered by Hamilton comparisons after F1 rookie season

This performance was no surprise to the then-director of Alpine's young driver academy, Mia Sharizman, who saw the difference from his young star compared to the many other F1 hopefuls he'd helped to develop.

In 2021, Sharizman explained to me how Piastri was already so self-sufficient and mentally resilient after living by himself as a teenager that he could thrive in the pandemic-affected 2020 season that required solitude and isolation from each driver's support network.

The result? Piastri beat the likes of Liam Lawson, Logan Sargeant, and newly crowned F2 champion Theo Pourchaire to the 2021 F3 title while simultaneously juggling the upside-down world that Covid brought with it.

One year later, he cruised to the F2 title in style, even without an F1 drive waiting for him as a reward.

When I next spoke to him for an in-depth interview after he took that latest crown, Piastri was sitting at his UK home on Zoom rather than in a Bahraini hotel as he was one year earlier, and even calmer than before, despite not having a drive in any series awaiting him.

Luck would have it that Nikita Mazepin's F1 exit announcement came just hours ahead of the conversation; I inevitably had to probe into the likelihood of him jumping into the Haas seat at the last minute.

An audience question of "What's your favourite 2022 livery?" had me suggesting the Haas looked pretty good with a wink at the camera, resulting in Piastri laughing and commending me with a "Nice try, Jim!"

We, of course, now know Piastri fared far better than whatever Haas would've offered, and a season on the sidelines didn't create any rust on a driver who has had one of the best rookie campaigns in recent history.

With 97 points and that Qatar Sprint Race victory, Piastri has outdone every other contemporary F2 graduate, with Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Pierre Gasly, Logan Sargeant, Zhou Guanyu, and even Alex Albon with half a year in Red Bull all failing to score higher in their maiden year.

Piastri made an unforgettable entrance into the motorsport conversation in 2023 for millions of fans. For those who knew how much potential the 22-year-old Aussie had, this year was simply more of the same from an incredible racing talent.

Now that everyone is familiar with Piastri's ability, more expectation than ever will come for 2024 and beyond, for this is a driver who looks destined for a championship fight in his exciting future.

READ MORE: 'Time for that WDC' - Piastri backed for greatness as historic rookie season ends


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