Oscar Piastri’s deeply impressive rookie campaign has left many hailing the McLaren driver as a star in the making.
Piastri’s abilities shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched his junior career. Impressing early on has been a common trait for the Australian, who won titles as a rookie in Formula 3 and Formula 2.
But the step up to Formula 1 comes with a whole new list of challenges, such as directing the set-up of the most complex car he’s driven and dealing with the attention of having his abilities scrutinised by media and fans alike.
During the season as a whole, he has lacked performance compared to team-mate Lando Norris. But an excuse, at least for the time being, can be found in the fact that the latter boasts four more seasons of F1 experience.
Norris endured a frustrating weekend in Qatar, feeling that he should’ve taken pole position in Friday’s qualifying session and Saturday’s Sprint qualifying outing.
However, mistakes on both laps destabilised his efforts, with Piastri taking the Sprint Qualifying top spot before successfully grabbing the win despite pressure from behind - suggesting that Norris, who has been labelled as one of the strongest drivers on the grid, is being pushed in a fresh way.
The following day, Piastri converted his sixth-place starting position into second place at the opening corner and held onto the position until the end of the race to take the second podium of his career.
His speed this season has been unquestionable, and the consistent streak of performances leads to the question being asked; is this the best rookie campaign that Formula 1 has seen since Lewis Hamilton?
Arguably, Hamilton’s debut F1 season could be labelled as the greatest rookie season of all time as he went head to head with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen for the World Championship, missing out by a single point.
In the years that have followed, there have been 55 rookie drivers in between the debuts of Hamilton and Piastri.
These include high-profile names such as Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc, to name a few.
Piastri's measured approach all season has resulted in very few mistakes, but his biggest one came in the Netherlands when he pitched his car into the barrier during FP2.
It was a mistake that was always going to come this year and, compared to other rookies in the field, his nose has been kept relatively clean in spite of his pace.
On top of that, he has been able to progress alongside the recovery displayed by McLaren, who has developed its car from a rear-of-the-grid competitor to a consistent podium challenger in a matter of months.
Out of the large crop of drivers that have come between Hamilton and Piastri, the most successful arrival has been Max Verstappen. The now three-time World Champion debuted in 2015 at just 17 years of age and showed his flashes early on, but with a lack of experience under his belt, there were mistakes that were not totally surprising.
Piastri entered his first F1 campaign with an abundance of laps under his belt after taking part in an extensive testing programme with Alpine during his year on the sideline.
It gifted him a baseline to build upon this year and he’s barely put a foot wrong. Despite being a fresh name in F1, his pre-debut hype has left only a natural feeling by seeing his name high up on the timing screen.
Few will forget the tussle that occurred between McLaren and Alpine for Piastri’s services before he even stepped behind the wheel at a race weekend. It pushed the pressure and scrutiny to an all-time high for a rookie, who was expected to show that he was the real deal.
Piastri hasn’t let the F1 spotlight phase him. He has adopted a conservative approach to a race weekend that has been evident all year. His gap to Norris in the early stage of the weekend is often quite large as he shies away from pushing the limit too early.
But when the lap times count, Piastri is on form and cuts the deficit to Norris and even gets ahead of him on the timesheet - something he achieved at the last three qualifying sessions across Qatar and Japan [including Sprint Shootout].
It is true that the gap between the pair grows again when it comes to the race. An area of weakness that has been consistent with Piastri all year is his tyre management, a factor that was largely dented in Qatar as drivers could push hard amid the imposed 18-lap maximum stint length per tyre set.
Norris did appear to have stronger race pace throughout and was told to hold his position in the latter stages of the race in order to ensure a back-to-back double podium for the team.
Race management has been the largest deficit all year between the two McLaren drivers, but experience is the biggest teacher for Piastri to overcome that woe.
McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella spoke in Japan of how Piastri’s primary focus after the race was on the 19-second gap to Norris at the chequered flag rather than the glee of scoring a podium in F1.
The mature approach of always seeking to better himself, even on his best days, has shown the qualities of a competitor that can go far in F1. If this rookie campaign is his starting point, who knows just how much success he can tally up before his time in the sport is up.
Whilst Hamilton's rookie season remains the benchmark, you can't take away what Piastri is achieving.