Oscar Piastri: F1’s new ice man

He tasted victory, of sorts, in the F1 sprint race in Qatar in 2023, but as Edd Straw sets out, Oscar Piastri should be popping corks more frequently – and soon, if his McLaren progress continues

Getty Images

Oscar Piastri is the cool, calm centre of the Formula 1 universe. The Australian meets triumph, disaster and everything between with a laconic deadpan, casting him as the natural heir to Kimi Räikkönen’s ‘Ice Man’ crown. Whether at the middle of a headline-making contractual maelstrom even before he started a grand prix, keeping Max Verstappen at bay to win last year’s Qatar sprint or reacting to rare on-track mistakes, Piastri appears serene. Were you building a racing driver from scratch, his tranquil intensity would be an ideal foundation.

He’s also seriously fast, last year translating a glittering junior category CV into podium finishes and the best rookie season since Charles Leclerc back in 2018. His speed troubled highly rated McLaren team-mate Lando Norris at times, contributing to McLaren agreeing a new long-term deal  to keep Piastri on until the end of 2026 last September, just 15 months after grabbing him from under the nose of Alpine. As the 23-year-old’s experience builds, Piastri will only get stronger, perhaps with the ultimate potential even to eclipse Norris.


A first podium – Oscar Piastri at the 2023 Japanese GP.

Getty Images

For now, Piastri is focused on packing his own databanks with as much knowledge as possible so that he’s the finished article by the time McLaren re-emerges as a title-challenging force. He describes his second season to date as a mix of “some good moments and some not-so-good moments”, reflecting the burning ambition within that he must keep under control as he traverses the learning curve. Piastri the interview subject reflects the man behind the wheel, collected and unexcited, but also effective in conveying his message. That’s just who he is.

“I’m pretty relaxed, most of the time. It comes with experience in motor sport”

“It’s definitely part of my personality,” says Piastri. “I’m pretty relaxed, most of the time. It also comes with experience in motor sport. You get a lot of things thrown at you that you can’t control and accepting that has been a key part of being able to stay calm. It’s also how I make decisions best, being in tune with what my mood is.

“Sometimes I do need a rev-up to get a  bit of energy. It’s just getting into that right state of being concentrated, not being too lethargic and not too excited. It’s a conscious effort to try and stay in that [zone] with the people around me and also trying to catch myself. So it’s a bit of personality, a bit of hard work and that’s how you end up with one-liners and very little radio excitement.”

F4 British series, 2017

F4 British series, 2017

Getty Images

Those characteristics appear to translate to his driving, hugely valuable in a sport where stable biometric measures correlate strongly with good, consistent performance. Perhaps this also reflects the strength of his support network, with his mention of the people around Piastri bringing us to Mark Webber.

He has managed Piastri since early 2020, providing the vast experience of both a nine-time GP winner and a graduate of the school of hard knocks. Webber reached F1 on a wave of talent and determination, making him the ideal guiding light. He sees Piastri’s character as a big strength, a column ticked in the requisite make-up of a great racing driver.

F3 champ, 2020

F3 champ, 2020

Getty Images

“It’s an extraordinary feather in his cap, and it’s why he was so strong in the junior categories, particularly Formula 2,” says Webber of his charge’s calmness. “Then he had a huge gap, which no racing driver wants, and while he did some testing it was nowhere near as much as advertised. He didn’t do a Friday practice session before he hit a Friday for real so that was not easy.

“His mindset; you can’t buy off the  shelf, you have it or you don’t. If you don’t, you can’t get it so I think he’s got a very, very hard column there, which is extremely encouraging. He still knows he’s got columns to work on and he’ll continue to work on those. But some of the stronger columns are ones that some drivers don’t get to ever have because you can’t really improve on them, whereas Oscar’s got some he wants to improve on that are doable.”

F2 champ, 2021

F2 champ, 2021

Getty Images

Piastri’s top priorities for 2024 have been improving his tyre management and consistency. While he characterises the latter as “up and down”, the evidence of the early stages of the season indicates he has made gains on race pace thanks to what McLaren team principal Andrea Stella describes as a “self-calibration exercise through experience”.

Managing the capricious Pirelli tyres is a dark art and one far more complex than the common misconception that it’s simply about backing off. Piastri’s approach to comprehending the complex and ever-shifting equations to be able to adapt his driving to tackle this reveals much about the intelligence he brings to his craft.

“The tyres are very sensitive,” says Piastri. “Depending on the track, it can be a different mechanism of destroying the tyres. Melbourne for example, was graining and Japan was very much thermal degradation so it’s knowing what you need to do because, while the end result is driving slower, you have to do quite different things to manage the tyres depending on what’s actually happening to them.

with Tim Schenken and manager Mark Webber

With Tim Schenken and manager Mark Webber

Getty Images

“Understanding in practice just how much of an effect my driving and things like  that make, both good and bad, has taken me a bit longer than I maybe would have hoped. But now that I appreciate that much more, it’s accelerated the progress. Getting used to that and understanding how much my driving can affect that has been a learning curve.”

This challenge is compounded by  the persistently tricky characteristics of the McLaren being driven on the limit. Norris comments on this regularly, describing it as being “on a knife-edge”, but it also confounded Daniel Ricciardo in 2020-21 and was noted by Carlos Sainz before that. Piastri seems less concerned than any of the McLaren drivers of recent years by this, perhaps reflecting another of his strengths.

Quick to learn and quick on the track, Piastri has all the qualities to climb to the top

Quick to learn and quick on the track, Piastri has all the qualities to climb to the top

Getty Images

Even before he raced in F1, Piastri’s adaptability was cited as a strength by those who worked with him, which explains why he says “there’s nothing particularly nasty about it” of yet another McLaren trait that requires a late-braking, V-shape approach on entry to partially mitigate its disadvantage in long, slow corners.

“The car’s a bit tricky to drive sometimes, especially in qualifying”

“It’s a bit tricky to drive sometimes, especially in qualifying,” says Piastri. “You have to push the car hard to get it to work, whereas some other cars I’ve driven, and looking at others on the grid, potentially work differently and buy a little more variability in your driving. We have to drive in a certain way. It’s not particularly strange, it’s just that you can’t stray too far away from it. When you get to the limit of any car, it’s going to be preferred to be driven a certain way so I don’t think that phenomenon is unique, it’s just the way we have to drive it sometimes is not as we would desire to drive it.

“There’s ways we try to manipulate the car where it’s weak and try to make up for it and there are some places where you can’t because it fundamentally doesn’t have enough grip to do it, or it doesn’t behave how you want. There’s certainly things that we’re trying to change. Both Lando and I would prefer to drive some corners in a different way.”


Perhaps, then, there’s untapped potential in Piastri, inaccessible at the moment owing to the McLaren not responding well to a slightly earlier-braking style for such corners. That’s the kind of approach Verstappen takes to allow him to pitch the car into turns perfectly and a place where a driver with preternatural ability can make a huge difference. Whether that’s in Piastri will be answered in the future.

Piastri has made clear gains, according to McLaren. Stella points not only to the improved tyre management, but also Piastri’s capacity to get up to speed immediately. While that’s partly a function of being on his second time round in F1, it also reflects a fundamental skill – one that Fernando Alonso often cites as among his own strengths.


“Every time Oscar gets in the car he has absorbed more skill”

“There’s a very apparent gain, which is he is immediately quick every session,” says Stella of the step Piastri has taken in 2024. “It’s a characteristic that you need to develop because it’s not only a rational process, it’s a sense of familiarity with the limit, with the confidence to lean on it and then say, ‘If I go over, I’ll manage it.’ This is something you only gain once you have good experience and make good use of it, because you can spend a lot of time in Formula 1, but if you don’t grow every single day you’re going to stay at the level you are. With Oscar, every time he gets in the car he has absorbed more skills.”

Stella’s influence cannot be understated. Eloquent, performance-driven and oozing experience of collaborating with top drivers, most famously as Alonso’s race engineer, he appears to be the perfect team boss for Piastri. Asked if Stella is as good to work with as it seems, Piastri shoots back immediately.

McLaren needs to take top-three positions from Ferrari through 2024; Piastri was fourth here in the Saudi Arabian GP

McLaren needs to take top-three positions from Ferrari through 2024; Piastri was fourth here in the Saudi Arabian GP

a smile from Stella on Piastri’s birthday a few weeks ago

A smile from Stella on Piastri’s birthday a few weeks ago

McLaren Racing

“Better,” he says, emphatically. “Andrea has been incredible on so many fronts, firstly how he’s interacted with me and nurtured me to make me as fast as possible. But everything he’s been able to do with the team has been phenomenal. He’s been pushing everyone to excel and he’s been enjoyable to work under. The results are the proof. I can’t find one bad thing to say about Andrea.”

The appreciation is usually mutual. The only notable flashpoint was at Monza last year where Piastri emerged from the pits having been undercut by Norris and made light contact with his team-mate in the first chicane. Stella laid down a marker there to both drivers, telling the world, “There should never, ever, be contact between two McLaren cars.” Perhaps that was in the knowledge of the high-stakes battle to come.

That collision at Monza – Andrea Stella was furious

That collision at Monza – Andrea Stella was furious


While Norris has, on average, had the edge on qualifying and race pace in their short time as team-mates, Piastri is trending in the right direction and there will surely be a reckoning down the line. Every driver will back themselves to beat their team-mate and while Norris is the de facto team leader thanks to his experience, Piastri could change that. He’ll certainly expect to, while the fact Norris has occasionally made mistakes under pressure from Piastri’s pace suggests he knows he has to be on his game to stay ahead. It’s unclear how this battle will play out, but until McLaren is competitive enough to win regularly it will remain something of a phony war.

That’s where having Webber in his corner could be hugely beneficial given his experience vying for supremacy at Red Bull alongside Sebastian Vettel. While it’s hard to see Piastri offering a caustic “not bad for a number two driver” to the team over the radio, both he and Webber are aware that this is a battle for tomorrow rather than today.

Career high – second to Max at last year’s Qatar GP.

Career high – second to Max at last year’s Qatar GP.

on the limit

On the limit

Lionel Ng

“When you’re getting 1-2s week in, week out, obviously it gets a bit more interesting,” says Webber. “But the team is still in the ascendancy and it’s come on in leaps and bounds over the past 12 months. Oscar knows what he needs to be doing. There’s not a championship on the line at the moment, so it’s regular [team-mate dynamics] right now.”

Norris is perhaps the ideal team-mate for Piastri. Quick, with an accomplished all-round game to benchmark skills and development. That also makes for a good pairing for McLaren as it pushes up towards Red Bull from its current position of F1’s third-best team.

Now listen up, Kimi Räikkönen – there’s a new ‘Ice Man’ in town, and like you, he’s going to be world champion one day...

Now listen up, Kimi Räikkönen – there’s a new ‘Ice Man’ in town, and like you, he’s going to be world champion one day…

LAT Images

“Lando is definitely a good benchmark,” says Piastri. “The mindset at the moment is it’s going to be much more beneficial for everyone, including myself, to be working together. When you’re fighting for first and second and there’s a championship at stake, things become a little bit different but when you’re fighting for fifth and sixth in the championship, we don’t mind which way round that is.”

For most young drivers, references to fighting for a championship in the future seem delusional. Not Piastri. He’s done everything right in F1 and has all the characteristics needed to become a genuine F1 star. Perhaps he’s a successor to fellow McLaren ace Räikkönen in more ways than one.