The youngest driver on the grid is the talk of the F1 paddock. PETER COSTER looks at a stellar career in the making.
Oscar Piastri’s Belgian Grand Prix ended at the first corner of the famed Spa circuit as he and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz came together at La Source.
They blamed each other in what stewards more dispassionately saw as “a racing incident.”
Such things do happen when a total of more than 20,000 horsepower is unleashed into a first-lap hairpin. If you are too aggressive, you hit someone in front of you and if you back off, someone behind hits you.
Piastri in the McLaren failed to complete the lap, limping through what is usually the nerve-tightening dive into Eau Rouge and the climb over the blind crest at Raidillon.
Drivers have died at Spa, the last to do so 18-year-old Dilano van’t Hoff, in a junior championship race last month.
It came four years after the death of Anthoine Hubert in an F2 race on the same section of the famous circuit.
Piastri and Sainz were uninjured, but for Piastri the real result was what took place in the days leading up to the Grand Prix.
After showing his speed at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, where a safety car slowdown took him out of a fight for second place with teammate Lando Norris and a third place to Lewis Hamilton, the rookie was fifth at the Hungarian Grand Prix, again behind Hamilton in the Mercedes.
He might have reached the podium after his fourth at Silverstone but had been ordered to swap places with Norris.
On to Belgium where he was beaten for pole by only thousandths of a second by Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.
This also set the grid for the sprint race on Saturday where he briefly led Verstappen before finishing second to the world champion.
So, it’s all about Oscar, the daring young man on the trapeze as the F1 circus goes into the mid- season break.
It is worth stating here how he has got there.
Piastri started his racing career driving go-karts, the usual entry point in motorsport for talented youngsters.
He was backed financially by his parents, who were there to watch him at the British Grand Prix and have bankrolled him for a reported six million dollars over the years.
Piastri is still only 22 years old and the youngest driver on the F1 grid.
There are two other 22-year-olds. William’s Logan Sargeant and Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, both born a few months before Piastri.
Tsunoda, who is Daniel Ricciardo’s teammate at Alpha Tauri, picked up a point at Spa on Sunday, with Ricciardo finishing 16th after losing sixth place in qualifying position because of breaking track limits. There was no time for another run.
Ricciardo needs to out perform the Japanese driver if he is to continue with Alpha Tauri next year, or to have any chance of replacing Sergio Perez at Red Bull, which calls the shots at the Italian feeder team.
Meanwhile, it is Oscar Piastri, who replaced Ricciardo at McLaren, who is the talk of the F1 paddock.Embed from Getty Images
The Australian’s rise at McLaren coincides with that of the MC60, which was previously regarded as a difficult-to-drive dud, although better handled by Norris amid Ricciardo’s too-obvious struggles with a car that seemed to drive him, rather than Ricciardo driving the car.
His replacement by Piastri is credited to former Red Bull race winner Mark Webber, who is Piastri’s manager.
Webber is also regarded as Piastri’s mentor having won nine GPs at Red Bull and a World Endurance Championship with Porsche.
The Belgian GP on Sunday saw Verstappen win by more than 22 seconds from teammate Sergio Perez with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third and Lewis Hamilton fourth for Mercedes, which was suffering from the earlier season “porpoising” that threatens to give drivers concussion injuries as they bounce down the straights.
Fernando Alonso was fifth for Aston Martin after earlier podium finishes this year and appears just as fast as he was when he won two world championships for Renault, now Alpine, in 2005 and 2006.
The next race is the Dutch GP among the sandhills at Zandvoort on August 27. Red Bull has won 13 races in succession. Ten have been won by Verstappen, eight on the trot.
Not only the Adrian Newey RB19 but its Honda engine have proved unbeatable but it is a far cry from the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in 2019 when tears of joy streamed down there face of Hondas bosses when their engine powered powered Verstappen to victory.
There had been years of embarrassment when the Red Bull was sometimes 30kph slower than its rivals and Honda executives fell on their sword, including the head of the company.
Belgium on Sunday showed the Red Bull can win at will. Verstappen started sixth after being relegated from pole after a gearbox change. He held back in the ruck that did for Piastri and passed Hamilton’s Mercedes on lap five for third and then soon after second from Leclerc and then Perez for the lead.
Red Bull are now publicly pressuring Verstappen to be ready to take over the lead in races when for some reason the Dutchman can’t do the business.
Unlikely as they be.