Oscar Piastri caused headlines before his Formula 1 debut over this year's summer break, when he sensationally said that he would not be joining Alpine only hours after they announced him for 2023. The Australian was later confirmed to be driving for McLaren, after the FIA's Contract Recognition Board ruled in the team's favour following a battle for his services. While Piastri will be replacing his proven compatriot Daniel Ricciardo, who has amassed eight F1 wins and generated a lot of fan engagement, McLaren CEO Zak Brown says there will not be too much pressure on him to perform initially. "Oscar's track record to date speaks for itself. I think it's important that we recognise he's a rookie who has spent a year outside of racing," he said, speaking exclusively to Speedcafe and RacingNews365.com at Bathurst. "He'll be like anyone else, a rookie that has a degree of rustiness on him from not racing. But he's a huge talent, so we just need to give him time. "What we need to do is not put too much pressure on him, or get into comparisons; 'He's filling Daniel shoes [etc..]' none of that stuff. We just need to let him settle in and support him. "When you come into McLaren, and come in the way he's come in, in between the Daniel situation and Alpine's situation, it'll be high profile. "While fans and media will be quick with their commentary, we need to give him time as a rookie to settle in."
Was Piastri always on McLaren's radar?
Piastri's ascent to F1 has been impressive. He was tipped to be the next best talent to come out of junior single seater racing, after taking both the Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships in his rookie seasons. By comparison, Zhou Guanyu did three seasons of F2 before getting his F1 break with Alfa Romeo despite not winning the title. Brown says Piastri was always on the radar of McLaren Team Principal, Andreas Seidl, who is close to his manager Mark Webber. Seidl was formerly Team Principal of Porsche when Webber raced for the outfit in the World Endurance Championship, achieving eight wins and one title in 2015. "Andreas is the one that I ultimately lean on to come forward with what he wants as a driver lineup," explains Brown. "We both think very similar, I can't give any decisions that we haven't both agreed on, whether that's driver or other performance related [decisions]. "It was Andreas who recruited him [Piastri] and had that relationship with Mark Webber. Obviously I've seen him [Piastri] race, know his background, but credit to Andreas for binding him. "His resume speaks for itself to date and it was Andreas that put forward the recommendation which I fully supported." As a rookie Piastri has performed exceptionally in junior formulas, but what has impressed McLaren most about the young Australian? Brown explains: "Maturity for 21 year-old. I've been very impressed with how he conducted himself through this situation this year. It was a lot of pressure for a 21 year-old and he seems to be a tough character."
Brown: 'Hard to know' if cost cap would've prevented Piastri signing
Even though driver salaries are not included in the $145 million cost cap, there was some talk at the beginning of the season over whether this could be included in the future. Given that part of the deal for replacing Ricciardo means that McLaren will still have to pay their incumbent Australian driver for the 2023 season, Brown says it is 'hard to know' if any cost cap would have had an effect on signing Piastri. "Hard to really know, because you don't know without a cost cap where we would need it to be, but we now know that we have a limit and our expenses," he explains. "It's much easier to make decisions where you're maxed out on what you can spend, because of the cost cap, so cost caps are great for the sport." Brown says that it was purely a "performance-driven decision" to go with Piastri and that the economics were not going to drive who they went with to replace Ricciardo. He said: "What we're making is performance-driven decisions. We're financially very healthy as a racing team, we've got great corporate support, new investors. "So money didn't really factor in to our decision, it was what we thought was best for performance for the team long term. We can afford to make performance-based decisions, even if those have short term economic consequences."