Oscar Piastri's Future Is Wide Open

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Oscar Piastri's Future Is Wide OpenClive Mason - Getty Images

This time last year, Oscar Piastri was in an awkward place. After winning the 2021 Formula 2 championship with Alpine, he found himself with no path to replace either Fernando Alonso or Esteban Ocon at the senior team for 2022 and spent the year as a reserve driver. Then, two major developments in a row: just as Alonso decided to leave Alpine for Aston Martin, McLaren decided to move on from Daniel Ricciardo. Both teams saw Piastri as the clear best driver on the entire market, well before his first career Formula 1 race. In August, both teams separately claimed that he would drive for them.

This is the twelfth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2023 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering McLaren. You can find the rest of our previews here.

After a month in front of Formula 1's Contract Recognition Board, McLaren won Piastri's services. Alpine went on to sign Pierre Gasly, and McLaren went on to lose an eerily similar case in IndyCar for the rights to 2021 series champion Alex Palou. As for Piastri, those concerns are behind him and he can now turn his full attention to preparing to make his Formula 1 debut.

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HOW HE GOT HERE

Piastri moved into cars in late 2016, racing in regional Formula 4 and Formula Renault for three seasons. After winning the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019, he moved to FIA Formula 3 and won a championship in his first attempt. In 2021, he repeated the feat by winning the Formula 2 championship in his first attempt. Those two accomplishments make him by far the most exciting prospect to go through the Formula 2 development ladder in years. His resume compares favorably to Mercedes star George Russell and his McLaren teammate Lando Norris. The 2022 Formula 2 field was notably weak, with champion Felipe Drugovich missing out on an F1 ride entirely. In other words, Oscar Piastri is the most exciting Formula 1 prospect in the world right now.

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GOALS FOR 2023

Piastri enters McLaren at an awkward time. Two years ago, the team returned to winning ways with a 1-2 at Monza and seemed set to move back into its long-held place near the front of the grid when the new-for-2022 downforce regulations debuted. Last year, the team took a disappointing step back and scored just one total podium. McLaren's winless streak that stretched back to the day Lewis Hamilton left the team for Mercedes may be over, but the team has not jumped back into championship contention. Piastri will not be tasked with leading the team back to glory, but he will be expected to get up to speed quickly and be ready to fight for wins when the team is ready.

The burden of showing what McLaren can do will fall on fifth-year driver Lando Norris. For now, Piastri's job will be to keep up. With how strong Norris has become in the last two seasons, that is no small ask even for a prospect of his caliber.

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A SUCCESSFUL SEASON LOOKS LIKE...

McLaren has had its fair share of prestigious prospects in the past decade. Norris worked out, but the team moved on quickly from Kevin Magnussen, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Sergio Perez over the past decade. One would hope that McLaren has learned some patience, but the best way to avoid those concerns is to succeed immediately. He will not be expected to beat Norris from day 1, especially since Norris himself did not beat his teammate until year, but he will be expected to put up comparable results. A successful season will be one where Piastri walks away with a few highlight races and finishes near his teammate in the championship. For a driver that won both Formula 3 and Formula 2 in his first attempt, both goals are manageable.

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