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Who is F1's next mega star Oscar Piastri?

Oscar Piastri has already generated headlines before he's taken to the F1 grid. The Australian was caught up in a contract dispute with Alpine and McLaren. But who is he? What has he achieved in his racing career? How did he end up at McLaren?

Oscar Piastri is regarded as one of Formula 1's most anticipated talents that will take to the grid in 2023. The young Australian is only 21 years old and has already achieved serious results in his early career, rivalling such drivers as Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and George Russell. Why? Piastri is one of the drivers who, in two years, won both the Formula 3 title and Formula 2 on debut. An exceptional achievement, but this was only a short time ago: Where did it start for Piastri and what is his story toward the king class of motorsport?

The beginning of Piastri's career

Oscar Piastri was born on April 6, 2001, in Melbourne, Australia. Just a month earlier, the same city hosted the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, and in the following years Piastri was also able to enjoy racing in his hometown. Early on he began car racing, but in a different way than one might expect. Most F1 drivers today start karting at the age of seven or eight years-old, but Piastri's career began with racing remote-controlled cars. He would go on to race go-karts with the backing of his father Chris Piastri, who through his company was also Oscar's very first sponsor and coach/mechanic. Piastri - as his last name suggests - has Italian roots but is a born and raised in Australia, so he also races under this nationality. He began his racing career in various Australian competitions, before making a switch to Europe in 2015. There he moved to the UK to be closer to the European karting scene and in 2016 he finished sixth in the World Karting Championship in Bahrain. That year, he also competed in some other karting competitions, but at the end of that year/beginning of 2017, he made the step up to junior formula racing.

Piastri gets acquainted with the single seaters

With his first major sponsor, HP Tuners (from his father), he is able to make the switch to formula racing at the end of 2016. This is when his career started to take off on the motorsport scene, with his first challenge being the Formula 4 championship in the United Arab Emirates. He finishes sixth in the overall standings in the UAE, before making a switch in 2017 to Formula Renault NEC and British Formula 4. In the latter competition, he picks up six wins, six poles and thirteen podiums, finishing second in the overall standings. Piastri graduated to Formula Renault Eurocup with Arden in 2018, finishing eighth in his first year, and at the end of '18 he tests briefly at Trident in GP3 (predecessor to Formula 3). The Australian elects to complete another year in Formula Renault Eurocup, this time racing in R-ace GP, reigning champion at the time. Immediately it becomes clear that with the right material, Piastri can go really fast. The Australian wins twice in the second race weekend of that year and later adds another five wins and four podiums. By the end of the season, Piastri is champion. After winning the FR Eurocup, he joins Renault's junior team, which later became the Alpine Academy.

Piastri on radar as top talent

After his championship in Formula Renault, it's time for more serious work in Formula 3 - which features on the F1 support bill. Piastri once again joined a team that were reigning champions, the ironclad Prema team. Immediately he managed to impress by winning his first F3 race at the Red Bull Ring. The subsequent races did not go quite as well, but in Hungary and at Silverstone he finished on the podium another three times. After the fourth race at the Silverstone circuit - owing to Covid making F1 do repeat race weekends at the same track in 2020 - he takes over the lead in the championship. Piastri would only win one more race at the Spanish round, and coming into the final race of the season he and Logan Sargeant (also an F1 rookie in 2023) are on the same number of points. In addition, Theo Pourchaire establishes himself as an outside shot for the title. But with a sixth place finish for Piastri, a retirement for Sargeant and P3 for Pourchaire, the Australian wins the F3 championship. This performance put him on the radar of several teams, having already attracted serious interest from Red Bull and others, although to their regret, he was never offered a contract. An Alpine junior and F3 champion, Piastri will advance to Formula 2 in 2021. He elected to stay with Prema, where he replaced 2020 champion Mick Schumacher, and kicks off the season with a win in Bahrain. With five more wins in the season, he secured the championship on his debut, something only Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, Charles Leclerc and George Russell managed before.

No place in F1 and the Alpine-McLaren drama

An F3 championship in '20 and an F2 championship in '21 should almost certainly guarantee a seat on F1 grid, but Alpine elected not to promote him - while F2 title rival Guanyu Zhou secured a seat at Alfa Romeo. At Alpine, there was initially no spot in '23, so promising a seat for that year became difficult. Placing him for a year with another team would be a possibility, but it turned out afterwards that there was already interest in Piastri's services by a team other than Alpine. Cue Fernando Alonso, who suddenly announced his decision to switch from Alpine to Aston Martin, leaving a spot with the French team in 2023. Alpine reacted swiftly by announcing Piastri as a driver for 2023 in a press release, curiously without a comment from the Australian. Hours later Piastri sent out a tweet via Twitter denying that he would be driving for Alpine in 2023 - the post amassing over 300,000 likes. It later emerged that the top talent had already signed a contract for '23 and it was with Alpine's main rival McLaren. After months of delaying a contract for Piastri's services, his management elected to look elsewhere on the grid. McLaren were looking to replace Daniel Ricciardo after a spate of bad performance at the start of 2022, and midway through the year the two parties agreed that they would be racing together. With Alpine losing their star driver and now their future prospect, team boss Otmar Szafnauer publicly expressed his disappointment with Piastri's choice and the McLaren move even had to be dealt with by the FIA's Contract Recognition Board. They ruled that McLaren's contract was valid and Alpine lost the services of Piastri despite spending millions in his development. In 2023, he will make his Formula One debut for the British team alongside Lando Norris.

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