Australia’s next Formula One hopeful Oscar Piastri isn’t daunted by the task ahead of him in 2021 as he steps up into the FIA F2 Championship.
Piastri, who won the FIA F3 Championship in 2020, steps into the Formula One feeder category with Prema Racing, the same outfit that took Mick Schumacher to the F2 title in 2020. Schumacher has since been signed by Haas F1 and will race in F1 this year.
Piastri is hoping to follow in Schumacher’s wheel tracks. And like the son of seven-time F1 world champion Michael, the Melbourne-born 19-year-old has the backing of an established F1 team.
Piastri was confirmed this week as a member of the Alpine Academy, known until this year as the Renault Sport Academy. Renault has, of course, confirmed its F1 team has been rebranded this year to Alpine F1. It is, though, in every way, a manufacturer-backed team.
And if that brings with it a weight of expectation, Piastri isn’t showing it.
“I’m trying to get to F1 so if anything my expectations of myself are going to be higher than what Alpine have for me,” Piastri told assembled media via Zoom.
“It’s an important year. I’ve got the momentum off the back of two championships in a row. If I can add a third that would be good.”
Piastri has won two titles in two years, taking out the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019 before backing up that title-winning form in the FIA F3 Championship last year. He was rewarded for his championship success with a Renault F1 test in Bahrain last year.
“I feel pretty ready,” said Piastri. “I’ve experienced an F1 car now; the test in Bahrain last year was very positive. Obviously there were a fair few areas to improve on but the feedback I’ve had has been very positive. I don’t feel I’d be ready to jump in an F1 car tomorrow, but if asked I’d say ‘yes’. I think I’ve still got a bit of learning to do but F2 is on the ladder to F1 for a reason.”
With Alpine F1 confirming that two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso would race for the team in 2021 and 2002, Piastri is all too aware his timing to graduate to Formula One could be perfect.
“We all know that with F1 it’s not just skill, timing is a massive part of it as well,” he said. “So obviously there are a few dominos to fall into place but all I want to do is do as well as I can on the track and integrate myself into the Alpine F1 team off the track and presenting myself in the best light possible.
“Yes, I think that timing could line-up very well, but I also, in saying that, I have two other guys in the Alpine Academy in F2 with me,” he added. “So I can’t rely on that to simply get me into F1. I’m expecting Zhou and Christian to be strong in F2 this year. I believe if you’re extremely successful on the track you can make your own timing, that’s the mentality I’m taking. If that gives Alpine and myself a headache then that’s a nice headache to have.”
Piastri enters the F2 season with another veteran F1 driver in his corner. Former Aussie F1 great Mark Webber – winner of nine Grands Prix – is managing Piastri’s career via his JAM Sports Management company.
And while Piastri acknowledges it’s an asset to have someone the calibre of Webber in his corner, he’s not getting carried away with thoughts of success just yet.
“I made it clear to the people from JAM that I don’t need someone holding my hand and carrying my helmet all the time,” said Piastri.
Alpine Academy director Mia Sharizman added that finding an F1 seat for the Academy’s drivers would be challenging, but remained hopeful a solution could be found.
“We all know timing is everything in terms of moving up the ladder,” said Sharizman. “We are at the stage where we have three drivers in Formula Two who are capable of fighting, or challenging for the title, and yes we have been looking and anticipating... starting from this year, '21, '22, '23, to place them [in F1].
“So yes, we are on the back foot but nevertheless [we’ll] look for a short-term and a long-term solution, be it with another team [or Alpine]. But obviously we have to look within ourselves first, to look into if we can place them with us. So it just makes the work harder, but we're confident that… we can have a solution for them.”
If Piastri does graduate to Formula One in the next two years, Australia will be faced with the prospect of having two drivers in the grid, the Melburnian joining McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo at the top level.