until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The first big validation of McLaren’s bold 2023 change

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Oscar Piastri’s third place on the grid for the British Grand Prix is the first high-profile vindication of the McLaren Formula 1 team’s decision to swoop to sign him in place of Daniel Ricciardo this season.

While Piastri’s performances have been unobtrusively impressive previously, this is a big result that underlines the quality of his rookie season to the watching world.

Piastri’s best result in both qualifying and races until now this season has been eighth and he has just two points finishes to his name so far. But the team has been impressed with his driving and in particular how well he’s matched up to Norris even at times when the final result hasn’t come together.

The decision to drop Ricciardo was a bold one both from a financial and reputational perspective. Ricciardo had a contract for 2023, with the parting of the ways meaning McLaren has spent millions on someone who is not driving for it this year at the same time as risking the ire of Ricciardo fans.

But given Ricciardo’s struggles with McLaren in 2021-22, Piastri’s form underlines why McLaren made that move.

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella cited Piastri’s qualifying performance in Spain, where Piastri lapped 0.890 seconds slower than Norris, who qualified third, as an example of good underlying performance that wasn’t reflected in the on-paper result.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying Day Barcelona, Spain

“Today’s result can be seen as a confirmation of the exceptional job that Oscar has been doing that today materialised in him actually being able to complete the lap, because even in Barcelona he was on par with Lando up until the point where he put his wheels on a wet patch so the speed was there, we knew it was there,” said Stella on Saturday evening, when asked by The Race if Piastri’s Silverstone qualifying was validation of the decision to sign him.

“We are really happy for Oscar that today he could show what we knew already in terms of his speed, consistency and adaptability to the various conditions that we had.

“Ultimately, when it comes to the past decisions, we look at the present. In terms of the present, we have two strong drivers and this puts us in a strong position for the present but above all for the future.”

That Piastri’s success came at Silverstone, a track where Ricciardo had one of his worst weekends of 2022 even by the standards of a profoundly difficult season, serves only to underline the contrast. While Ricciardo was fundamentally limited by the peculiarities of the McLaren’s handling, characteristics that Norris has said have largely carried over into this year, Piastri has adapted much more effectively.

Piastri’s qualifying performance was even better than the result suggests given that although he is running the major upgrade introduced only on Norris’s car at last week’s Austrian Grand Prix, his car isn’t of an identical specification.

This is because Norris has a new front wing that was completed just in time for this grand prix, one that is reckoned by the team to be worth around one tenth of a second. Given the gap between the duo in qualifying was 0.131s, accounting for that puts Piastri at a very similar pace to second-place qualifier Norris. Piastri did trial a new rear wing on Friday, but didn’t carry this into the rest of the weekend as it was always envisaged solely as a test item.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Qualifying Day Silverstone, England

As Stella alluded to, Piastri hasn’t always translated the underlying speed he has shown into the qualifying performance he was capable of. But that’s to be expected of a rookie driver, meaning you must always focus on the peaks of a performance in a first season, then look for those to become more consistent.

While the Silverstone track and relatively cool conditions suited the McLaren, Piastri did this weekend what he didn’t manage to do at Barcelona and put a top-three car near the front of the grid.

“It’s a very special moment to be in the top three, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to one of these press conferences so it’s nice to be back,” said Piastri.

“This weekend we thought we could get to the top 10 at least but when the conditions are looking like they were, it’s generally been pretty solid for us previously so I think we went in quietly confident that we could pull off something pretty special and we’ve managed to.

“In those conditions, most drivers really enjoy them. They are always tricky to get right, you need to find where the grip is on the track. Sometimes you can see where the grip was and you just had to pray that you were on a dry bit of track. I really enjoy those conditions and so does our car.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Practice Day Silverstone, England

While McLaren is hopeful of not struggling on race pace to the extent it did in Spain, Piastri’s first objective is to convert third on the grid into a points finish rather than getting excited about holding onto his position.

But he has every chance of improving on his best F1 result so far. If he does so, he will likely have rounded off the most impressive weekend of his short F1 career so far in terms of execution by turning the impressive pace that’s been there all along into an eye-catching weekend performance.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks