With the Australian Grand Prix back in Melbourne this week, local Formula 1 newcomer Oscar Piastri is living life in the fast lane, set to enter his first-ever car race in Australia accompanied by a home crowd.
After the bitter departure of Formula 1 heartthrob Daniel Riccardo now long in the memories of most fans, the Australian flag will not be missed at Albert Park – Piastri is down under with the McLaren team, ready to compete in the third Grand Prix of the year. And what’s more, don’t bother trying to buy a ticket. Race day tickets are sold out.
That’s good news for fans with a pass, though. Not only can they expect to see Piastri take on the world’s best drivers, they will also see the up and coming stars of Formula 2 and Formula 3, plus the Repco Supercars Championship and Carrera Cup.
Also, race-goers can look out for the Repco Garage in fan areas behind the main straight grand stands, offering a range of activities including the Repco Pitstop Challenge, slot car racing, plus the ultimate display car – the Brabham BT19 that Sir Jack Brabham drove to victory in the 1966 world championship.
Following in Brabham’s footsteps is Piastri, who’s career started only 30 minutes from the infamous Albert Park at the Oakleigh Go Kart Racing Club.
It was at Oakleigh that karting coach James Sera first discovered Piastri’s talent. At just of nine-years-old, Sera took Piastri under his wing, spending the first five years of his career travelling around Australia with his young charger in tow. It was here that the foundation for a stellar racing career begun.
In 2016, Piastri left Australian shores and entered the stepping stones towards Formula 1, jumping into Formula 4 and making a splash. Within a year, he stepped up to Formula Renault Eurocup, finishing ninth in his first season with three podiums. In just his second season, Piastri won the title.
Following in the footsteps of F1 drivers such as Pierre Gasley, Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher, Piastri signed with leading development squad Prema Racing for the 2020 F3 season. Despite the global health pandemic, it was a breakthrough year for Piastri, winning the crown at his first attempt and was instantly promoted into F2.
But as time told, the biggest win Piastri had in 2020 was arguably his most decisive, but it wasn’t a brave on-track pass that set up his F1 dream.
Piastri signed Australian racing great Mark Webber as his driver manager, who quickly secured a deal with the Renault Sport Academy, soon to be known as Alpine.
He sampled his first Formula 1 car in 2020 where he test drove for the Renault F1 team along with current rival Zhou Guanyu. Later returning to the cockpit at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi.
In 2021, Piastri continued his winning ways, securing the Formula 2 title to join an illustrious list of drivers – namely Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hülkenberg, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell – to take the GP2/F2 title in their rookie seasons.
He was now the hottest young driver property in the paddock.
However, graduation to the Formula 1 grid did not come instantly – nor smoothly.
Alpine signed Piastri as its reserve driver for 2022 with the intention of promoting him to a seat this year, but this came to an end on a sour note when Piastri sort to dissolve his relationship with the team to drive for McLaren in 2023.
The ensuring legal wrangling was public and, at times, ugly, especially with the realisation Piastri was set to replace the popular Ricciardo at McLaren.
Despite it all, Piastri and manager Webber got their way, with the Melbourne driver donning the papaya colours alongside Lando Norris for the 2023 season.
After the first two races of this year, it has been a less than ideal for the pair, although a maiden top 10 effort in qualifying for Piastri in Saudi Arabia has given the hordes of Australian fans that will flock through the gates at Albert Park some hope this weekend.
While some may remember Piastri for the back door deals that saw him land at McLaren, there is no doubt that he has earned his place in the Formula 1 field. The local supporters will be hoping that he has what it takes to not only score race wins like Webber and Ricciardo, but be in the hunt to win a title – a crown that only two Australians can lay claim to – Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones.
History awaits, but one thing is for sure, expect to see a large proportion of the Australian fans wearing plenty of orange race gear supporting a young charge that carries the hopes of a nation.