Oscar Piastri is a name that, up until this year, was virtually unknown by Australian motorsport fans. That has all come to a swift and sudden change with the young Victorian racing driver making world news before he has even raced a Formula One car.
While the world of F1 can be brutal at the best of times, the circus surrounding Piastri’s rise to prominence – including the axing of Daniel Ricciardo by McLaren, a trigger-happy driver announcement from Alpine and some vintage Fernando Alonso bridge-burning – has been especially juicy.
So, who exactly is Oscar Piastri and why has he caused such a stir?
A Meteoric Rise
Australia’s newest soon-to-be Formula One driver is 21 years old and hails from Melbourne. His successful karting career saw him finish third in both the 2015 Australian KF3 Championship and the IAME X30 International Final, along with a storming second place in the National Junior Clubman Championship, among several other race wins and podium finishes.
At just 15 years old, Piastri progressed to international racing cars, finishing fourth in the UAE Formula 4 Championship, with two podium finishes. This effort saw him progress to the British Formula 4 Championship, taking runner-up honours on debut, with six victories, four pole positions, five fastest laps and 15 podium finishes. To say that this was an extraordinary result against some of the best young drivers in the world would be a massive understatement. It was clear that the young Melbournian racer had already placed himself firmly on the radar of people much further up the global motorsport ladder.
Piastri’s next step saw him progress to Formula Renault in 2018, just as his Western Australian compatriot Daniel Ricciardo had done a decade before, a proven Grand Prix winner whom Piastri would spectacularly unseat from his Formula One team within four years. Piastri finished eighth on debut, with three podium finishes, returning in 2019 to win the title, with seven wins, five pole positions, five fastest laps and an impressive 11 podium finishes.
Renault/Alpine: The Next Big Step
Next was a career trajectory direct to Formula One with the support of his family and the Alpine F1 Team who signed up the Australian to the team’s junior driver development program. The Renault-funded Formula One team clearly identified Piastri as a young racer that they could groom all the way to the very top.
Piastri then set out on the final two racing steps before reaching the pinnacle of the sport, the FIA Formula 3 and Formula 2 Championships in 2020 and 2021. Piastri won both categories on his first attempts, competing against the world’s most talented young racing drivers, firmly stamping his place as Australia’s next Formula One driver.
Fast-forward to 2022 and the Alpine team did not have a Formula One drive available for Piastri but retained him as the team’s Official Reserve Driver, while also providing Formula One car and simulator testing opportunities for the Australian during the year.
Piastri’s testing and preparation program also included 3,500 kilometres of testing in a 2021 specification Alpine Formula One car, at circuits located around the world.
Chaos & Casualties Ensue
The surprise departure of double World Champion driver Fernando Alonso from the Alpine team made a 2023 Formula One seat available to Piastri, and the team announced his promotion to full-time F1 driver in August.
As you probably know by now, this is where it all became very messy. Within two hours of the announcement being made, Piastri himself stated via Twitter that the Alpine F1 Team media release had been distributed without his knowledge or consent and that he would not be driving for the team in 2023.
Never before had a rookie driver rejected a major Formula One team debut opportunity like this – although we now know this action was spurred on by the fact that Piastri, who is managed by former Formula One racer Mark Webber, had already signed a deal with McLaren in early July.
Once this came to light, it led to a legal stoush between the two teams over Piastri’s driving services, with Alpine ultimately losing out and having to cough up over $900,000 in legal fees after F1’s Contract Recognition Board ruled against them.
These actions also ensured the fate of fellow Aussie Daniel Riccardo, who was dumped by the McLaren team one year early and at enormous financial expense, to make room for Piastri.
The Weight of Expectation
When Piastri does finally line up on the grid in the papaya-streaked livery of McLaren in 2023, it will mark the most controversial entry to Formula One by any new driver in the long history of the sport.
Despite the tumultuous way that he has found his way into one of the sport’s most successful and historic teams, there is no doubt Piastri has made it to where he is on sheer talent – this is sometimes forgotten among all the madness of his unique and somewhat litigious ascent.
Once he makes his debut, Piastri will become the fourteenth Australian driver to make it to the highest echelon of motor racing since the Formula One World Championship was established in 1950. A mere handful have become Formula One race winners (5) and only two Aussies have become World Champions across more than seven decades.
Let’s see what our latest Formula One ace can do early in the 2023 season when the circus makes its way to Piastri’s home city of Melbourne next April.