Melbourne’s Piastri pumped for home F1 grand prix

Oscar Piastri got hooked young.

Like many Australian kids, Piastri, growing up in the inner south-eastern Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh, was given a remote controlled car.

The gift unearthed a gift.

Aged nine, Piastri – at the remote controlled nationals, with no age groups – won the second-class competition.

“There is basically the top class and then the second class,” Piastri has said.

“I won the second class when I was nine which was pretty cool.

“That was the highlight of my RC career but I definitely raced them competitively, it wasn’t just around the backyard.”

At the nationals, someone’s daughter had a go-kart.

“I had a go on that,” Piastri said.

“Pretty sure I spun on my out-lap when I hit the brakes but I loved it.

“And within a week, I had my own.”

Piastri reckons racing remote controlled cars gave him an instant advantage when starting his karting career in 2011.

“Having raced remote control cars, I kind of had a rough idea on racing lines and how the basic principles of driving worked,” he said.

“So I picked it up pretty quickly.”

Piastri picks up most things quickly.

Aged 13, in 2014, he turned into a karting professional.

Aged 15, after racing in Australia and Europe, he moved to the United Kingdom where his career accelerated.

Later that year, in his single-seater debut, he claimed two podium finishes in Formula Four, finishing sixth in the championship.

Aged 17, Piastri was runner-up in the F4 championship after banking a half-dozen wins and a half-dozen pole positions in the 2017 edition.

A year later, he made his debut in the Formula Renault Eurocup – ninth overall, best finish a second.

In 2019, Piastri stepped into the team at reigning title-holders R-ace GP and won the championship.

In 2020, he stepped up to Formula 3 and won the championship.

In 2021, he stepped up to Formula 2 and won the championship.

Piastri was the first driver to win three consecutive F1 feeder series championships.

He motored into exalted company, joining Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, Charles Leclerc and George Russell as winners of the F2 title in their rookie season.

And was just the fifth driver after Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Leclerc and Russell to win the F3 title and then the F2 crown the following year.

Offers were flying in, almost overwhelming Piastri and his dad Chris, who early doors helped fund his son’s racing via sponsorship from his automotive software development company.

The Piastris struck a deal with former Australian driver Mark Webber, who made 215 F1 starts between 2002-13, to manage him.

“We realised that we were getting a lot closer to the top of the ladder during my Formula Renault season but felt that we needed some help,” Piastri has said.

“At that point, it was literally just me and my dad.

“So we thought that it would be a good idea to have Mark on our side … it has been a very good relationship.”

In 2022, Piastri joined the F1 circuit as an Alpine reserve and didn’t drive in a race.

He remained calm, some say cold, when Alpine in August announced he’d replace Fernando Alonso in a driver’s seat for 2023.

Piastri tweeted in reply: “This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.”

Alpine’s team principal Otmar Szafnauer queried Piastri’s integrity but, in early September, the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board ruled in the Australian’s favour.

The ruling was rapidly followed by Piastri joining McLaren, where he has finished 20th and 15th in the initial two races this year, his debut F1 season.

Now for Melbourne, the city where he got hooked.

Last year at Albert Park was bitter-sweet for Piastri, commentating, smiling for sponsors, when so close yet so far from racing in a F1 in his home city.

This weekend, a dream becomes reality.

“It probably hasn’t sunk in yet,” Piastri said this week.

“Formula One is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.

“To be able to fulfill that dream now and be able to call it a job, I’m really looking forward to that.”

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