MELBOURNE, Australia — He may have endured a disappointing qualifying session at his maiden Australian Grand Prix but Oscar Piastri is already impressing those at McLaren, including teammate Lando Norris.
The 21-year-old Melburnian will start Sunday’s race at Albert Park from 16th position after missing out on advancing to the second phase of qualifying by a narrow 0.046s. Even still, Norris admits he’s been forced to lift his game in response to how swiftly Piastri has gotten up to speed.
“He’s keeping me on my toes,” said Norris, who qualified 13th in Melbourne. “He’s understood the car well. It’s obviously not an easy car to drive, I think that’s been made clear with past drivers and comments I’ve made over the years.
“He did a very good job in Saudi [Arabia], he got into Q3, the only Q3 this year so far. We want the same thing in general and that’s a good thing; a better dynamic. From both sides, off track and on track … good stuff. Yeah, keeping me on my toes.”
McLaren team boss Andrea Stella echoed Norris’ comments, praising Piastri for his early season form.
“What we see is that Oscar is close to Lando in most of the corners. When your teammate is so competitive, it becomes a reference [for Lando],” said Stella. “This year, the closeness between the two drivers is certainly much better than what we saw last year.”
Despite the encouragement, Piastri believes a stronger qualifying result was certainly possible in Melbourne. The rookie was left to rue a mistake which cost him around two-and-a-half tenths of a second on his final flying lap in Q1.
“Not quite the session I wanted,” Piastri said after qualifying. “I went and had a look and it was really one corner where I lost all my time. One corner was where it all went away today. A shame.
“We’ve said the whole season how incredibly tight it is, especially with the teams around us that we’re fighting with.”
Piastri will be hoping to emulate the efforts of the last two Australians to compete in their first home race, with both Mark Webber (2005) and Daniel Ricciardo (2012) achieving points-scoring finishes in their first Formula One outings at Albert Park.
It’s a tall order, however, given McLaren is yet to score a point through the first two races of the season; the team’s best result coming courtesy of Piastri who finished 15th last time out in Saudi Arabia.
Regardless of how the rest of the weekend pans out, Piastri is enjoying his first taste of being a full-time driver at his home grand prix.
“It’s been a good weekend and a nice experience so far,” he said. “The reception has definitely gone up a notch from last year, which has been cool. It’s been nice to have the home support and even when I was walking to the scales after Q1, there was a pretty big cheer which was nice to have, even for 16th. It’s been a cool experience.
“In terms of workload, I think it’s been well managed. To be honest, at this point of the weekend last year I was probably more tired than I am now. Which is probably a good sign.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris says Oscar Piastri is ‘keeping me on my toes’