Oscar Piastri on the Monaco Grand Prix, McLaren’s turnaround, and chasing Red Bull

To say the last calendar year has seen a stunning turnaround for McLaren in the Formula 1 world would be an understatement.

After eight races in 2023 McLaren sat near the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship with just 17 points, their best race weekend coming in Australia where Lando Norris finished sixth, and Oscar Piastri eighth. But that result needed McLaren to catch some breaks, in the form of retirements and collisions that knocked out some of their competitors. After eight races a season ago McLaren was not just a whopping 304 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship, they were 27 points behind fifth-place Alpine.

More often than not, the story of their start to the 2023 F1 season could be summed up in races such as the Miami Grand Prix, which saw both Norris and Piastri eliminated in Q1 and finish the race at the back of the field.

Things are much, much different right now.

Take the Miami Grand Prix, which saw Norris capture his first F1 victory a few weeks ago. Or take last weekend, where Piastri qualified second for the Monaco Grand Prix and finished there as well, taking P2 in the sport’s marquee event. Now? McLaren sits third in the Constructors’ Championship with 184 points on the season, 92 points behind first-place Red Bull, and 68 points behind second-place Ferrari.

It is a turnaround that Piastri himself told me was “remarkable.”

I caught up with the McLaren driver for an exclusive discussion following his tremendous result in Monaco, and we discussed McLaren’s turnaround, the Monaco Grand Prix, his strengths as a driver, and whether Ferrari and McLaren can truly turn this F1 season into a three-way title fight with Red Bull.

Oscar Piastri of McLaren celebrates second place with the...

Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

A second-place finish in F1’s signature event

Our conversation started with last weekend, and Piastri’s P2 in the Monaco Grand Prix. I asked Piastri how enjoyable that second-place finish in the sport’s biggest event was.

“Yeah, it was very cool,” started Piastri over our video call. “I mean, I guess if there’s one race of the year apart from your home race where you can get on the podium. Monaco’s probably the pick. So I was, yeah, very happy. I felt like I performed well all weekend, and I felt like the team did a really good job.

“Of course, getting the P2 trophy is very, very special.”

Beyond the personal result, Piastri appreciated that McLaren maximized the entire weekend.

“But I think more than that [is] just the fact that we had a really solid weekend where I feel like there wasn’t much more we could have done. That’s also very satisfying for me. So, really enjoyed it.”

The McLaren second-year driver also appreciated racing in Monaco, now that he calls the Principality home. “My first time having a home race in Monaco, as I’m there now, so that was, was cool. Being able to wake up in my own bed as well. But yeah, really enjoyed the whole week. It’s always an amazing event.”

After qualifying second on Saturday, Piastri spent most of the Monaco Grand Prix lookign at the rear wing of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari. But was there ever a moment where Piastri thought he was going to send it against Leclerc, and try and take the lead?

There was one, but as the McLaren driver admits, looking back it was probably for the best that he did not truly make the attempt as it is so hard to overtake on the Monte Carlo streets.

“It’s incredibly tough [to overtake in Monaco]. I think for me the difficult thing is that whilst I was right behind Charles for a lot of the race, it wasn’t because he was slow,” started Piastri. “It was because he was deciding to go slow, right.”

“So it’s not like somewhere else where they have clear strengths and weaknesses and you can kind of set them up [for an overtake]. Like for him, if he wanted to go faster, he could have, literally depending on what he wanted to do with his right foot,” added the McLaren driver. “So that also made it tough.”

Piastri admitted he made one attempt, but reviewing the race afterwards, he conceded it would have been difficult to make the overtake stick.

“I tried once into Turn Eight to try and get by. But, yeah, I watched it back and to be honest, I was even further back than I thought. So it definitely wouldn’t have worked. But yeah, that is just the nature of Monaco, I guess.”

And while some may have found the lack of overtaking frustrating watching the race on Sunday, Piastri admits that as the laps were winding down, he was rather glad to be on the tight Monte Carlo streets.

“To be honest, for the last 10 laps of the race, I was pretty happy we were racing Monaco [because] my tires were struggling a bit,” added Piastri. But yeah, it’s just the nature of the beast around there.”

Along with the 18 points Piastri banked for the team, Norris’s fourth-place finish brought in 12 more points as McLaren added 30 more to their tally on the year. Only Ferrari — with Leclerc’s win and a third-place from Carlos Sainz Jr. — added more.

Piastri called the team’s weekend in Monaco an “important” result, as well as another confidence boost for the entire organization.

“Definitely an important result,” described Piastri. “I think, of course, the points are important. But I think also just the confidence that we can be competitive at so many different types of track is, for me anyway, more of a confidence boost.”

The second-year driver then pointed to the team’s results over the last three race weekends. In addition to Norris’s win in Miami, he delivered another P2 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola. Add that to Piastri’s podium in Monaco, and you have three extremely strong results, at three very different circuits.

That kind of consistency will be huge for McLaren going forward.

“I think, you know, Miami, Imola, and Monaco are all three very different circuits and we finished 1st, 2nd and 2nd,” said Piastri. “So I think for me that really sets us up for the rest of the year. I think we’ve got a much better handle on our car this year. I would say, I think at the end of last year, we were very strong at some circuits, but we had some clear weaknesses still.

“I feel like this year we’ve definitely tightened up some of the weaknesses.

“I feel like other teams are caught up on our strengths. But we’ve definitely caught up on our weaknesses as well. So I think for me that’s a really encouraging sign,” continued the McLaren driver. “And the fact that we’re not too far behind in the Constructors’ Championship at the moment is encouraging to see what we can try and do for the rest of the year.”

Down in Miami, drivers such as Daniel Ricciardo described Saturday’s qualifying session at the Monaco Grand Prix as perhaps the moment of the season, a session where drivers truly put themselves, and their cars, on the limit.

That is an opinion Piastri absolutely shares.

“Definitely. I 100% agree,” said Piastri Wednesday when I asked him about qualifying in Monaco.

“For me, it’s the most exciting session of the whole season,” added Piastri. “You know, some of the races are, of course, good and there’s good moments in the races.

“But I think for me, if you wanna see drivers driving the quickest cars at their absolute limit in between walls — for me, that is what Formula One’s all about and what motorsport is all about seeing cars and drivers on the limit with no margin for error — and Monaco qualifying is the epitome of that,” continued the driver.

“So, yes, I know the race is quite boring. But I think for me the spectacle of qualifying is by far the most exciting moment of the whole year.”

Something else that was exciting for Piastri, McLaren, and perhaps the entire sport in Monaco?

The team’s tribute to Ayrton Senna.

Coming off a week in Imola where the sport paused to reflect on Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who passed away tragically at the circuit during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, McLaren continued paying tribute to Senna in Monaco. The team unveiled a special livery for the week, which included team kits, driver suits, and even as Piastri reminded me, racing boots for Norris and Piastri.

It was all very “special” for Piastri and the team.

“It was very, very special,” said Piastri when I asked him about McLaren’s tribute to Senna in Monaco. “You know, to be part of a team that has the history to be able to do that tribute. But secondly, also willing to make that tribute. And, you know, we didn’t do it just halfway we were the full works. We went livery, team kit, me and Lando had special helmets. We even had special boots.

“Like for me, that was a really, really special moment in my life, being able to pay tribute to Senna. And yeah, the fact that we had good results in the livery as well was the cherry on top. So very, very special.”

F1 Grand Prix of Japan

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

McLaren’s “remarkable” turnaround

The conversation then turned to the team’s stunning turnaround, from where they — and Piastri — started a season ago. I reminded Piastri of a discussion I had with Norris in April of 2023, when in his teammate’s words they were fighting “for points,” bringing it forward to when I talked with Piastri ahead of the Las Vegas Grand Prix last November, when McLaren was fighting for podiums.

Now they are fighting for wins.

How has the turnaround been from his perspective?

“Nothing short of remarkable, I would say,” started Piastri.

“When I joined the team, we were struggling massively. We were one of the slowest cars, at some point the slowest car, to halfway through my first season being able to fight for podiums at some tracks, to the end of it, being on the podium twice. You know, for me that first year was already a rollercoaster in itself, but then even this year to take it another step further and be able to fight for wins. That’s really, really special,” added Piastri.

Piastri described the past calendar year as something of a rollercoaster.

“I would have been fine not having the bottom of the rollercoaster at the start. But to be already within 30 races of my F1 career in a position to be on the podium on merit and almost winning races on merit is very, very special and an incredible position to be in,” continued Piastri. So, the turnaround’s been nothing short of remarkable. The whole team’s done an incredible job.”

The driver also outlined how, even during the struggles and through to their current position, sitting third in the Constructors’, the atmosphere has not changed within the team.

They are always fighting for more.

“I guess the confidence we’ve had the whole way through has been very impressive to see. And just the hunger,” described Piastri. “You know, when we were struggling, no one wanted to stay struggling. No one was just going through the motions going ‘well, this is where we are.’ It was like, ‘ok, how are we gonna get out of this?’

“We had a plan and it worked and then when we started finishing on the podiums, it was like, ‘ok, we’re not just happy getting podiums, we wanna try and win.’

“Now we’ve won a race and we’re like, ‘ok, we’ve won a race but we wanna win all the races.’

“So we’re still so hungry.

“Which for me is the most important part and until we win every race and every championship, we’ll keep being as hungry as ever,” continued Piastri. “So it’s been a real joy to be a part of, and very impressive to see.”

I then asked Piastri about the MCL38, the team’s challenger for the 2024 season. When I spoke with McLaren CEO Zak Brown last October about the team’s turnaround a year ago, he said the simple reason was that McLaren had finally given Norris and Piastri a “faster race car.” I wanted to know what the improvements were in the car, from the driver’s perspective. Was it the pace? The consistency? The ability to have the car in a bigger operating window? All of the above?

“I think probably just the pace of it really. I think all the upgrades we put on last year never really changed how the car behaved massively. I would say at some points when we were getting really close to being able to qualify in pole position, sometimes the car was actually quite difficult because we were really pushing the performance of it,” described Piastri.

“This year, it’s been quite similar. I would say at some points, it’s a bit tricky to drive at some point. I think the most recent upgrades have made it a little bit more consistent again, I would say. But nothing revolutionary.

“I think also when you have a car that’s just generally quicker, better on its tires, whatever it might be, it just makes life easier. And you don’t have to go to 101% to try and get it all out and it works one time out of ten, you can drive it at 99% and get it there pretty much every time,” continued Piastri.

“So I think that’s probably the biggest difference.”

F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Practice

Photo by Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Oscar Piastri the driver, in his own words

There is a lot of excitement around McLaren in the F1 world.

When I spoke with Brown last week ahead of both the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, he spoke of how Norris’s win was a popular one within the F1 world, given both his popularity as a driver, and McLaren’s popularity as a team.

I tapped into that popularity, soliciting questions for Piastri from the tremendous F1 community on Threads. While I could not get to each question, I was able to get to some, and they offered a great view at Piastri the driver, in his own words.

I started with a simple one: How does he stay so calm in the car? Watch any F1 event and you are likely to be treated to some incredible in-car audio from the driver, who in a tense moment truly sounds as if he is on a Sunday drive to the grocery store.

“I mean, a large part of it is just my personality. I guess that’s just kind of how I am, but there’s definitely a conscious effort on trying to keep it that way,” described Piastri. “You know, I’m not immune to being angry. I’m not a robot. I still have emotions when I’m in the car especially. But just trying to control them as best as you can for me is how I perform best.

“I’ve always tried to focus on the things that I can control. In motorsport, there’s a hell of a lot of things that you can’t, and you can really get yourself pretty twisted up in all the things you can’t.

“So, a bit of both personality and conscious effort, but I definitely need those. One doesn’t work without the other.”

The next reader question involved what Piastri considers to be his strength as a driver. Some drivers are known for their braking skills, such as Daniel Ricciardo, or their overtaking ability, such as Fernando Alonso. Is there something Piastri hangs his hat on as a driver?

“I mean, I think staying calm definitely comes into it. But I think being just smooth generally, when you’re smooth that normally works better than worse. So I think probably that,” started Piastri. “I think my high speed cornering ability.

You know, I never really focused on strengths or weaknesses that much in my junior career. I kind of just tried to be good everywhere, and there wasn’t really like one specific area that was good or bad,” continued Piastri. I think when I’ve been in F1, my high speed performance probably came more naturally than my low speed performance.

I feel like now it’s getting more even again. But, generally the high speed corners are where I seem to be good. I don’t really know why,” added Piastri, starting to laugh. ”But it’s just where it comes a little bit more naturally for me.”

Another popular question from readers comes down to stability. The driver transfer market is shaping up to be one of the more interesting in recent memory, kicked into gear by the news ahead of the 2024 F1 season that Lewis Hamilton would be leaving Mercedes for Ferrari next season.

However, things are much different at McLaren, with both Norris and Piastri having signed long-term deals recently. That means the team will have an unchanged driver lineup for at least the next three seasons.

I asked Piastri how important that is for future success for the team.

“I think it’s a really strong place to be. And I think, you know, for me personally being on a long-term contract here is very comforting,” began Piastri. “I’m sure it is for Lando as well. But that also goes for the whole team, having two drivers that I would say we’re both definitely pushing each other, in a healthy way.

“And I think having two drivers that are pushing each other is a very key aspect.”

Piastri also outlined how that stability in a driver lineup is critical for the entire organization.

“I think having two drivers that want very similar things from the car is a key aspect, which we do and I think having them both in the team for many years to come is very important as well. And I think it gives the engineers confidence, and I guess comfort, that they’re developing the car for the same two drivers,” continued Piastri. “Hopefully they’re confident in us to deliver for them. But yeah, just the security and stability is always a nice thing to have, both ways. I think it’s just a really strong position to be in, in general.

“There’s no sort of doubts on, you know, ‘are the drivers [going to] stay?’ There’s none of that uncertainty or doubt.

“So I think it’s just a really strong place to be.”

This portion of the conversation closed with a question on Piastri’s pre-race routine. Is there something specific that he does before he climbs into the car? Something that he does to get in the right frame of mind?

“I mean no specific rituals or anything. Like I always do a physical warm up before each session, which I guess is kind of keeping the same routine. Which I think a routine in life is always a good thing,” started Piastri.

“But I think it’s just going into the session making sure that I know what I need to improve from the last practice session or whatever it might be, just knowing what that is. And not over complicating it. It’s more just knowing what things I need to do and then, you know, make sure I know how I’m gonna go tackle it.”

F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna - Qualifying

A title fight?

At the moment F1 fans find themselves in an unfamiliar place given recent years.

Wondering if there will be a true title fight at the top of the grid?

As our discussion wound down, I asked Piastri if McLaren and Ferrari can keep the pressure on Red Bull, and turn the 2024 season into a true title fight.

“I think so,” was the immediate reply.

“I think Red Bull is still gonna be incredibly strong at pretty much everywhere. I think it’s kind of just a coincidence that the last two or three races have been a little bit less comfortable [for Red Bull],” continued the McLaren driver. “But there’s definitely gonna be more opportunities for both us and Ferrari.

“The Constructors’ [Championship] I would say is still open. We’re still a third of the way through the year. So it’s definitely still all to play for. I would say, of course, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage being as far back as we are, but it’s certainly not impossible. And yeah, I think even in the Drivers’ Championship, it’s not done and dusted yet. If you were to say anyone apart from Max [Verstappen] being the favorite, it’s probably ambitious.

“But I don’t think either championship is over by any means.”

While Piastri conceded that his own position in the Drivers’ Championship — where he currently sits sixth — would be a tough ask, the Constructors’ Championship is certainly a goal.

“I think in the position I’m in in the driver’s standings, [I’m] probably not gonna win the Championship unless I really take it up a notch again. But I think in the Constructors’, we’re not out of contention for winning that.

“So, that’s definitely the aim of the team.”

Piastri also noted that the prospect of a title fight is exciting for everyone.

“And I think the fact that it’s becoming, or in the last few races has become a real possibility is very exciting for everyone.”

The grid heads to Montreal next, for the Canadian Grand Prix. A year ago Canada was another difficult weekend for McLaren, ahead of their mid-season turnaround. Both Norris and Piastri advanced to Q3 in Montreal a year ago, but the duo finished outside of the points.

What can McLaren fans expect in Montreal in a week, and can Norris and Piastri be in the fight?

“I think we can be confident that we’ll be in the mix,” started Piastri. “The track’s been resurfaced from last year, so we’ll see what the surface is like this year, which makes quite a big difference for a lot of things, but especially the tires. But yeah, I think we can be confident that we’ll be up there. It’s just gonna be interesting to see where, where everyone else stacks out as well.

Piastri also noted that the days of wondering what tracks will or will not suit McLaren might have passed us by, given the consistency the team is seeing from the MCL38.

“I think we should be pretty confident. You know, I feel like kind of gone are the days of going ‘Oh, this track’s gonna suit us. Well, this one’s not.’ I feel like the tracks where we’ve said that in the past we’ve actually done quite well. And sometimes the opposite.

“So I’m pretty confident that we can go in and be alright.”

I closed with a question about his expectations for the Canadian Grand Prix, and Piastri made it clear that his expectations heading into Canada are the same as they will be each week going forward.

McLaren is in the fight at the front.

“Certainly my expectation is every race we go to, we shouldn’t discount a win. I think it would be ambitious of us to assume we’re gonna win every race,” described Piastri. “But I think definitely that’s the mindset I wanna take forward, knowing that we can at least fight for a win, or be, you know, at the very least right at the pointy end.

“So I think we can definitely have a lot of good results this year.”

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