The last most famous Australian in Formula 1 stands in the shadow of the pit garages in Albert Park and when he has to pass the Mercedes pavilion he puts on his sunglasses even though clouds have gathered over the Grand Prix circuit. Michael Masi, race director of the so controversial 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi, is actually back home after his dismissal from the Fia World Automobile Association, and is again close to Formula 1 for the first time. But only as head of the touring car series V8 Supercars, which runs in the supporting program.
Lewis Hamilton watches the official from afar; the Briton has repeatedly emphasized that he will never be able to get over the pain of losing the title, which he felt was robbed by an idiosyncratic interpretation of the rules. He doesn’t want a late discussion with Masi: “There’s nothing to say. I’m just concentrating on my future.”
Also the Australian ones Petrolheads, who are supposed to give Melbourne a record crowd of more than 140,000 visitors on Sunday are looking ahead, even far ahead. You didn’t even have to get used to a different team color, only the start number has changed.
Daniel Ricciardo, the frenzied Aussie in the racing circuit for the past eleven years, is out – but now the debutant Oscar Piastri is sitting there. He was brought into the McLaren cockpit by Mark Webber, also an Australian, who lost to Sebastian Vettel in the internal Red Bull title duel at the beginning of the last decade. But no Australian has received as much hype as Piastri. Since Alan Jones, 1980, the last world champion from the fifth continent, certified the newcomer to combine all the skills a future champion needs, a veritable Oscarmania is developing in the country. Piastri is just contesting his third World Championship race.
At the age of ten, Piastri sat in a kart for the first time: a late bloomer
There has never been a native of Melbourne in Formula 1. Piastri, who turns 22 on Maundy Thursday, grew up fifteen minutes from Albert Park but has only played cricket there once. He has never contested a car race in his home country, because he completed his school and basic motorsport training in England. In general, Piastri is a late bloomer, only sat in a kart for the first time at the age of ten. So a good seven years later than Max Verstappen. But he caught up quickly.
He immediately won the highest junior leagues Formula 3 and Formula 2. There is no question that he would have belonged in Formula 1 by 2022 if there had been a free cockpit or if he had brought a high sponsorship dowry, preferably both. The child prodigy from the other end of the world had to be patient.
Piastri was parked in the Renault academy and had to hope for a place with the Alpine team. The involuntary lap of honor took an unexpected direction last summer. In the transfer poker triggered by Sebastian Vettel’s resignation announcement, both Fernando Alonso and Piastri ripped off the French team. Team boss Otmar Szafnauer couldn’t decide between the senior and the junior and ended up losing both. Remarkably, the youngster was even more cold-blooded than alpha male Alonso.
After the Spaniard fled to Aston Martin, Alpine announced Piastri as his successor. But he objected to having a legally binding agreement – the Fia’s contract arbitration court agreed with him. Concerned about having to remain idle for another year of racing, Piastri had signed with McLaren – where he ousted his compatriot Ricciardo. This can be interpreted as instinct or as ingratitude towards the training company. Perhaps it is above all an expression of self-esteem that a future world champion must have.
It’s just stupid that the McLaren-Mercedes is the worst car in the field so far in the 60th year of the racing team. Team owner Zak Brown has just fired the technical director and is remodeling the whole squad. The previous team boss Andreas Seidl had already been looking for a new perspective in the future Audi factory racing team, Sauber, in December.
Piastri’s progress also depends on the rapid success of the modifications to the racing cars and team. The greatest talent is of no use if it’s in the wrong car at the wrong time. Alonso, who at 41 finally has competitive material again with Aston Martin, is a good example.
A stable duel with teammate Lando Norris is looming
Piastri’s big opponent is – apart from the MCL 60 – Lando Norris. Another talent. The 23-year-old has already been traded in England as a potential Hamilton successor, but has not yet won a race. A duel of super talents is looming. Norris, on the team since 2019, is only several notches better than his challenger on the paycheck so far. The Briton is said to collect six million euros a year, Piastri is estimated at 125,000 euros training allowance. It should soon be between the two like in the duel Verstappen against Perez at Red Bull. Most recently in Jeddah Piastri landed just ahead of his colleague, in qualifying this Saturday and in the race on Sunday he wants to emancipate himself further.
After the break, Piastri is not dissatisfied with his debut: “I was able to shake off the rust and the races so far give me confidence that I’m on the right track.” He spares himself the latest season of the Netflix series “Drive to survive”: “It feels strange to look at people on the screen that I’m constantly dealing with in real life,” he says.
Instead, he prefers to study the great duels in racing history. Focus: the dramatic duel between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost – back then at McLaren.