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Piastri on Webber's hindsight and why answers not tantrums key to F1 progress

Being at the heart of the Formula 1 contract dispute between McLaren and Alpine created ample controversy to prompt Oscar Piastri to steer clear of creating headlines in 2023.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, on stage in the Fanzone

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Compared to some of his more publicly charismatic compatriots to have raced in F1, Australian rookie Piastri appeared notably guarded whenever he was dealing with the media last season.

Rather than reveal any off-track inexperience by over-sharing, being too self-deprecating or ending up in a protracted war of words with a rival driver, Piastri seemed totally unflappable.

Some may have taken that measured approach to indicate a lack of personality, that Piastri was the latest young driver to have been PR polished to a fault on his way up the FIA F2 and F3 ranks.

Autosport Top 50 of 2023: #26 Oscar Piastri

However, speaking to Autosport, Piastri says he very much is taking a ride on an emotional rollercoaster but he saves those rare flareups for when the doors are shut.

Challenged about coming across as guarded and rarely offering a killer soundbite, he replies: “I would say I'm very self-critical. For me, there's just not any point, especially in self-deprecation, destroying yourself in front of the media. If you want to do that on your own, then sure.”

Piastri isn’t one to lock himself in a hotel room after a bad day, turn up the volume on a particularly sad playlist and wallow. Instead, he channels his anger into finding solutions.

“For me, just trying to find answers to things is the most important thing,” he continues. “There's been some difficult sessions, some difficult races. But, and I think this also comes across in my radio, there's no point getting upset or emotional about things you can't control.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, poses for the 2023 McLaren team photo

Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, poses for the 2023 McLaren team photo

“It's much better to try and fix things that you can control than just get upset about them. So, that's always been my way of trying to tackle these things and just trying to keep a clear mind.”

While many will have followed Piastri’s meteoric rise up the junior single-seater ladder, for others, he will have mainly popped onto their radar for a now infamous tweet.

Amid the fantastically frantic summer 2022 driver market silly season, Piastri was moved to post: “I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”

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As Alpine dithered over offering two-time world champion Fernando Alonso a one or two-year extension, Piastri’s manager Mark Webber was rather irked by the prospect of his protégé sitting on the sidelines for another term or being sent to the back of the grid via a Williams loan spell.

That led to an agreement with McLaren, and ultimately a need for Piastri to publicly shut down Alpine’s news that it had apparently promoted its hotshot to a full-time race seat for 2023.

The Enstone squad’s announcement notably didn’t feature a quote from Piastri and when former team principal Otmar Szafnauer was asked to recall precisely how the young driver had supposedly reacted to the good news, apparently Piastri “smiled and was thankful”. Eventually, the FIA Contract Recognition Board ruled in favour of McLaren’s paperwork.

Following such a turbulent arrival in F1, Piastri says he was happy to keep out of the limelight thereafter: “I'm very new to the sport and especially in the first half of the year, I feel like I had enough controversy and headlines on my way into F1.

Oscar Piastri, Alpine

Photo by: Alpine

Oscar Piastri, Alpine

“I certainly wasn't in a rush to cause any anymore and I kind of just try and let my driving do the talking.”

While Piastri’s stellar on-track acclimatisation – capped off by winning the Qatar GP sprint race - drew comparisons with past McLaren rookie Lewis Hamilton, the learning curve away from the circuits has been slightly more drawn out.

Piastri has needed to lean on nine-time GP winner Webber’s experience to learn to deal with heightened media attention, the need to book flights at more sociable hours and refine his logistics so he’s less tired during what he now recognises will be the busiest years of his career.

Webber is often spotted around the McLaren garage immediately before a session or leaning against the circuit wall as mechanics flock to the grid and the race start approaches. He’s one of the last people Piastri will speak to before heading out in the car.

“It's mostly advice,” says Piastri. “His hindsight is my foresight in some ways.

“So, there's been plenty of occasions, especially in the beginning of the year, where he's come up with questions that haven't even entered my mind.

“He's just got that little bit of experience and added info that you can really learn a lot from and is useful. He’s still got a very keen eye for everything that I'm doing.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, 1st position, with Mark Webber

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, 1st position, with Mark Webber

But it wasn’t Webber leading the way when, to ward off potential suitors, McLaren offered Piastri a bumper new contract that should keep him at Woking until the end of 2026.

“It was mostly from the team side of things, to be honest,” reveals Piastri. “I knew I was already signed up [for 2024], but it was a pleasant surprise for everyone to have the conversation of the extension a year earlier than what it could have been.

“For us, it was a no-brainer to extend it early. The team's been on an impressive trajectory, I felt very welcomed and very at home now. So, it was an easy decision on both sides really.

“Certainly, no pressure from our side to get it done so early. But definitely a nice thing to put your mind at ease for even longer than it was.”

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