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Formula 1

Is Piastri falling short of his star-making F1 rookie season?

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Oscar Piastri headed into 2024 expected to build on his strong Formula 1 rookie campaign and pile the pressure on Lando Norris.

But he’s been overshadowed by his McLaren team-mate in terms of results, leading to the perception that he’s perhaps not taken the anticipated step forward. 

The basic statistics support the notion that Piastri has been underwhelming in 2024, scoring just under half of Norris’s points (41 compared to 83), failing to reach the podium and only once being the lead McLaren in the six races both have finished.

Where a fair comparison can be made, Piastri has on average been 0.139s off Norris in dry qualifying sessions.

But the numbers do Piastri a disservice. 

Miami last weekend was a case in point for the 23-year-old Australian. You can make a compelling case that Piastri was the better McLaren driver that weekend considering he had what was characterised by team CEO Zak Brown as a car running only in “upgrade-lite” trim that meant a pace deficit of around two tenths of a second. Yet Piastri qualified ahead of Norris for the sprint and just 0.081s behind for the grand prix.

Piastri ran second for much of the first stint after overtaking Charles Leclerc's Ferrari. Pitting under green flag conditions, just before the safety car period that allowed Norris to stop and hang onto the lead having extended his first stint, cost him.

The subsequent battle for fourth with Carlos Sainz ended with a pitstop after suffering front wing damage stewards pinned on the Ferrari driver and added up to a 13th-place finish.

But Piastri's performance, rather than the result, justifiably earned top spot in The Race's Miami Grand Prix driver rankings.

Piastri conclusively proved his single-lap speed last year, but race pace was a bigger question mark.  This year, his best weekends have been on tracks where degradation was less of a problem, notably Miami and Jeddah, the latter the weekend on which Piastri conclusively beat Norris both on performance and results despite an unhelpful safety car.

There’s still room for improvement, as you'd expect for a driver in only his second season. But as McLaren team principal Andrea Stella explained, Piastri is making genuine progress."Oscar comes out of this weekend even more conscious of his strengths as a driver," said Stella after Miami.

"We knew already how fast he is on a single lap. And let me pay proper credit to Oscar: the gap he had to Lando in qualifying is smaller than the difference of the package he had, so he was really pulling off a strong performance over a single lap in very difficult conditions with the soft tyres.

"His performance in the race was again very strong. Lando said by watching Oscar overtake a Ferrari, he got like 'Wow: we are actually there today', so it was a realisation for Lando himself. And Oscar could keep strong pace in the first stint.

"He comes away from this weekend with these convictions, which especially in terms of race pace is something that we wanted to improve having looked at Japan and China. So he’s in a very strong place.

"He also comes off this race having proven once again how strong a team player he is, because clearly when I told him, 'Oscar, we are going to give the sidepods and the floor to Lando', he wasn't the happiest in the bottom of his heart, but at no point did he make this decision difficult. At no point he said like, 'Oh, but why?' He understood the reasoning and he was immediately supportive.”

There are obvious areas where Piastri has improved. With experience, he’s generally got on the pace more quickly in race weekends, consistent points have been delivered and mistakes minimised.

As last year, the key gains are in tyre management and race pace, which Piastri felt he has improved everywhere aside perhaps from the Chinese GP.

"China was a bit of an odd one out," said Piastri when asked about his race pace improvement after the Miami GP. "I've been quite happy with the step I made from last season. China was a bit worse than the other races.

"[The Miami GP] was going well on the medium and I was happy with it. It's just unfortunate that it doesn't mean much at the end."

Small differences between Piastri and Norris have been exaggerated. In Bahrain, he would have followed his team-mate home in seventh place had McLaren not let Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton get the undercut jump on him.

After beating Norris in Saudi Arabia, the gap was again stretched by strategy in Australia. There, Piastri underachieved in Q3 and cost himself a shot at the podium, especially given he then had to make his first pitstop five laps earlier than Norris in an attempt to undercut Leclerc that proved unsuccessful given the Ferrari came in on the same lap.

Japan was a difficult weekend where Norris had the advantage both on single-lap and race pace, partly because of Piastri's struggles to get the tyres in the right window for a qualifying lap.

He also had a tough time in China, as he acknowledged, although his sprint qualifying was compromised by the car jumping into neutral on the run to the chicane prior to qualifying within a tenth of Norris in the full session.

The deficit to Norris in the race was exaggerated by a difficult first stint then diffuser damage sustained when Daniel Ricciardo was punted into him by Lance Stroll.

It's reasonable to conclude Piastri's start to the season has been a little disappointing, but only within the context of sky-high expectations.

Once you factor in the circumstances that have exaggerated the gap to Norris, it shows that the underlying performance is still good and that improvements continue to be made - as you'd expect for a driver in only his second season with so little running outside of race weekends. 

Norris may have reasserted himself with a strong start to the season and his maiden grand prix win, but a big result is just around the corner for Piastri, who gets the full upgrade for Imola next weekend.

In the battle of the long-term McLaren drivers (both are contracted at least to the end of 2026), there's still a long way to go. And given Piastri has more gains to make against a team-mate in his sixth season, this is a fight for de facto team leadership that could yet go either way.

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