It’s not been a good start to the new season for McLaren, or for its rookie driver Oscar Piastri who replaced Daniel Ricciardo behind the wheel over the winter off-season.
The 21-year-old Australian was the first driver to retire from a race in 2023, just 20 minutes into the Bahrain GP. While he did finish the second race in Saudi Arabia, it was well outside the points after sustaining damage on the opening lap.
But it’s not just Piastri who is suffering amid McLaren’s serious slump in form. His experienced team mate Lando Norris has also failed to finish in the points so far this season.
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It’s certainly not the way that the squad wanted to start its 60th anniversary year of operation, but Piastri is determined to remain optimistic and points to a rival teams’ rapid turnaround as inspiration.
“We’re obviously not where we want to be at the moment and we’ve been very open about that,” Piastri said in Jeddah.
“At this point, getting laps under my belt is still the most important thing. In the end, there was good experience gained,” he said, lamenting the damage done to his front wing on the first lap of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
“Qualifying was obviously a really good day for myself and the team – just a shame about lap one,” he told Australian sports website Speedcafe.
“After that, the race was reasonable. Doing 49 laps on the hards is just some good learning for us on the tyres and stuff like that,” he said. “Definitely some positives, just the results don’t really show it on Sunday at the moment, unfortunately.
“[But] we’ve got a good development programme in place to try and get ourselves back to where we should be, which is chasing the top three or four teams,” he continued, referring to Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin.
“Obviously to get on the same level as those top three or four teams is difficult,” he acknowledged.
“But I think we can probably take inspiration from what Aston Martin has been able to do over the winter and try and energise ourselves with it is possible to make that jump with a lot of hard work.”
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The sudden rise of Aston has been the talk of the paddock over the first two race weekends of 2023.
Last year the squad finished in a lowly seventh place with just 55 points (compared to Red Bull’s runaway 759 points at the end of the 22-race season.
Although the team wrapped up the season with a double points finish in the final race at Abu Dhabi, Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel were only P8 and P10.
But right from the start of pre-season testing, Fernando Alonso has been leading the charge against the frontrunners and succeeded in joining Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez on the podium in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Piastri believes that if Aston can pull off such a remarkable ‘overnight’ turnaround, then so can McLaren.
“Yeah, I think obviously we want to try and get back,” he said, pinning his hopes on an upcoming upgrade package scheduled for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the end of April.
“We’ll see what these new developments in Baku bring for us, but obviously it’s going to be a step in what is a multi-step plan for us this year.”
Before that, Piastri is set to star in what will be his first home Grand Prix at Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit.
“Obviously, it’s my first home race as a driver, which will be an amazing experience, regardless of how it goes. So yeah, can’t wait.”
Of course, even better would be his to come away from next weekend’s race with his first world championship points in the bag. But let’s not get carried away about the team’s prospects quite so soon.
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