Piastre’s F1 podium debut revealed a rookie’s frailty

Oscar Piastre is not the most proven of Formula 1 drivers.

After securing his first Formula 1 podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix, he allowed himself a slightly excited „wow” on the radio, but said it was „not the best pace I’ve ever shown in the world”.

But that reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather it is a very encouraging trait for a driver who has already made a big impact in F1.

The 22-year-old’s performance saw him qualify on the front row and finish third on his first visit to Suzuka. But Piastre wasn’t happy with his racing performance and wasn’t afraid to admit it. This highlights a major weakness in his work, although this should not be taken as a criticism of his qualities. In fact, it underscores why he’s such an exciting prospect.

Some drivers will only focus on results, and taking his qualifying performance, he edged out team-mate Lando Norris, taking a pitstop under the virtual safety car and taking his first podium thanks to orders from the McLaren team. As a testament to his own brilliance. Not Biastri.

Instead, he focused on elements of his performance that weren’t as strong as they could have been. It’s a trait that marks drivers who aim for bigger things, who constantly improve and leave no stone unturned in honing their skills.

„At certain points in the race I wasn’t fast enough,” Piastre said. “These high-quality races are the biggest thing I have to try and work on at the moment.

„It’s still very new to me. All the junior races before have not had races like this, so the only way you can learn from it is by doing the races.

„So [there are] There are definitely some things that, if I were in this race again, I would have done a bit differently.

„But it’s all part of learning. It’s exciting to know that I can finish on the podium, even though I feel like there’s still more to come.”

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Piastre finished 17.1 seconds behind Norris, although that deficit could have been larger but for the virtual safety car and the small strategic difference. This led to a very clear exhibition of the speed difference.

Piastre finished third, five seconds behind Norris, who skinned in the pits at the end of lap 13 of the 53, the VSC being activated while he was in the pitlane, reducing the time loss. Norris lost time by four seconds to leader Max Verstappen behind the slower Sergio Perez under VSC. When Norris emerged from the pit four laps later, he was seven seconds behind Piastre – a 12-second swing in Piastre’s favor.

Norris soon caught up with Piastre, and after some back-and-forth on the radio, McLaren ordered a position change. It was a smart move for Norris to back off. However, due to the high level of degradation at Suzuka, even a four-lap tyre-age offset eroded the gap.

„If you pit, you’re a tenth of a lap later than the others,” McLaren team principal Andrea Stella said at this stage of the race.

“Lando pitted [four] lap [after]So his car is automatic [four] One-tenth faster than the other car. So his later fielding was an advantage in terms of relative speed.

“Besides that, I have to say that Lando’s pace today was absolutely fantastic. We’ll have to see with Oscar where we could have gotten one or two tenths of the total price compared to Lando, which Oscar seems to be missing today.

That small offset skews the stats, but overall there was a clear difference in speed across all conditions. Averaged over the entire race, on laps where a driver spins slowly, i.e. on and out laps or those affected by VSC, Piastre was 0.561s slower than Norris on average per lap.

In the first stage, the speed difference was very narrow, closing in at half-a-second per lap, while it grew to 0.878s per lap in the middle, which was eroded by the factors mentioned above. In the final stage, the deficit was 0.737s per lap. To that we must add the caveat that Piastre was not actually racing Norris, but to control third place.

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In Hungary, for example, the highly degraded races this season have been a challenge for Norris. Often overlooked, tire management isn’t simply about 'driving slowly’, it’s about driving your tires in a way that minimizes wear and tear while extracting the best lap time. This presents a significant driving challenge that novices will always take time to master.

„At certain points in the race the tire management and the pace was not as strong as I would have liked,” said Piastre. “The first stage felt like everyone was driving very slowly and then when I tried to push a bit more the tires wouldn’t let me go faster.

„So there are some things to work on there and yes, the overall speed in the races. There’s no easy way to learn other than going through the races and getting the experience whether it’s good or bad.

„A lap speed has been a good improvement since the start of the year, especially in the last few weekends, but in races like this, race speed is still an area to improve.”

Piastre’s single-lap pace was certainly impressive. From the start, his individual corner speed compared well with Norris, even when he didn’t put a lap together.

In terms of experience, he excelled in qualifying and beat Norris on Saturday in Suzuka. Even then, the time gained in the first sector on his last lap left him with what he described as the easy parts of the lap, showing a desire to progress with disappointment.

The key to making improvements is understanding where he needs to make gains and race pace is an area of ​​focus for Piastre and race engineer Tom Stallard.

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But as Stella points out, the key quality is that Piastre has the base speed needed to get the job done. The Australian has shown that repeatedly this year and it’s worth noting that in less tyre-sensitive races, Silverstone for example, his pace compared very well to Norris’.

When asked by The Race about the reasons for Piastre’s race-speed learning curve, Stella said, „It’s not like you learn race speed, it’s a set of skills that you apply to every race.”

“In a race like today, with so much decay, the car bounces a little bit in places and the high-speed and low-speed management applies.

„That’s why it’s a bit of a journey and it takes time, because every situation presents its own characteristics. I’m sure Oscar will have learned things today.

„Actually, in the end it was already better than it was in the second phase, so it’s systematic work to cash in on all possible learnings. There’s no one-size-fits-all learning method.”

„It’s an innovative element. But the first thing I take away is always the apparent speed, which we saw yesterday, because when you have that, race speed and all that is very easy to work with.

„As we saw yesterday, it’s very difficult to find the edge in a single lap at Suzuka.”

That’s why Piastre’s weakness in Suzuka is nothing to worry about. It would be worrying if he didn’t recognize that this is an area where there is still plenty of room for improvement, but all evidence points to a driver. Japanese GP

Piastre had a strong freshman season. The good news for him and McLaren is that there is plenty of evidence that he is only going to continue to improve as he builds experience.

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