Oscar Piastri: "I knew straight away that I won the Championship"
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Born in Melbourne, Australia, 19-year-old Oscar Piastri has already achieved some pretty impressive things in such a short time. He says himself that he's always been competitive, an obvious key personality trait to have if you're on the path to the pinnacle of global motorsport, Formula 1. After racing remote control cars in his early childhood, he ended up in racing, something he 'ended up being quite good at'. Evidently, he's very good at it, considering the success he's had this year.
Oscar Piastri, FIA Formula 3 World Champion. It has a nice ring to it. I sat down with Oscar, virtually, of course, to talk about his success in 2020 and how he actually got there.
ELLIE: How did you get into karting?
OSCAR: I actually raced remote control cars first, when I was around six, I started racing those. I was doing it with my dad and we met someone who was racing with us and he had a daughter who he had a go kart for. I had a go in that one day, at my local go kart track and then, the next week I had my own and that was that. I think I started practising when I was about nine or ten, and I did my first race when I was ten. It’s probably a bit later than most people, probably a couple of years older than most people. In saying that, I know remote control car racing isn’t the same thing but I had some knowledge of race cars before I went to karting, so it was just a bit of a different background, really.
"It's definitely difficult coming from Australia to Europe."
ELLIE: Did anyone inspire you to choose karting or was it a natural progression from remote control car racing?
OSCAR: I’d say it naturally stemmed from that. I was quite good at remote control cars; I won a national championship when I was nine. It wasn’t the top class but it was the second level class. I think naturally in that, the people involved in racing, some of them said to my dad, ‘give him a go in a real go kart and see if he’s any good’, basically, so it kind of naturally stemmed from that. Also, my grandad on both sides of the family (so, my mum’s dad and my dad’s dad), were both mechanics and have both followed motorsport for years, so it was always in the family but my grandparents didn’t have enough money to fund my dad. He actually used to race BMX bikes and couldn’t really afford motorsport, so I’m the first in the family to actually have the first real step into motorsport rather than just watching from the side lines.
ELLIE: Was it difficult when finding your feet while karting in Australia compared to how it would have been in Europe?
OSCAR: I wouldn’t say it was difficult for me in karting. I guess the most difficult sort of thing is the financial aspect and I’m very lucky be quite secure on that side of things. In terms of difficulty, I found my feet after, probably, a couple of years. The first year or two, I think it’s quite normal, like, my pace was generally quite good, I just didn’t really have the race craft or anything like that, so that took a little bit to develop. But, I think it would’ve been a little bit different in Europe. I ended up doing a European season in 2016 anyway, so I kind of experienced both. It’s definitely difficult coming from Australia to Europe, well, it was quite difficult, because, not so much the competition, (there’s still a lot of good drivers in Australia), but instead of having five or six people that might be battling with for a win each race, in Europe, there was twenty of us that could all realistically win. The depth of the field was much more, so you couldn’t really afford to make a mistake and if you made a mistake, instead of losing a few positions or whatever, it really bit you hard. Obviously being in Europe would have been much easier, just for travel and logistics, that kind of thing.
I still went to school whilst I was racing, I only finished school at the start of this year, so trying to manage that while racing in Europe was quite a nightmare as well. If you’re going to race in Europe coming from Australia, you’re going to really have to fully commit. It was a bit difficult in some aspects, I guess. I spent a lot of time off school, and it was nice that the school let me off, but yeah, it didn’t make life very easy.
"I was leaving everything I knew behind."
ELLIE: After taking part in some championships in Australia, which had the biggest impact on your career?
OSCAR: In Australia, there isn’t really many championships, per say, it’s more like, one-off races. I only did one championship, Australian karting is a bit complicated, but I finished third in that. I would say the first actual big win I had certainly built my confidence in it and it took me a while to get there. I could always fight somewhere towards the front, but just getting that little bit extra to get my first win was definitely needed and then after that I started winning a lot more. It kind of opened the door, but in terms of specific races, in Australia there wasn’t too many.
To be honest, I wouldn’t say that my karting career was really that spectacular. I was up towards the front, I would like to think most of the time, but I didn’t actually win that much. In terms of actual race wins that stand out, the first one I had was a race called City of Melbourne Titles and that was like my first big win against quite a lot of people from all over the country and then, the following weekend, I won my first state championship. Basically, in Australia, normally the number plates are white, but if you win a state championship you get a blue number plate. I was pretty excited to have that. That was the ‘thing’ to have, so that was definitely one of my biggest wins.
I had a race in 2014, which was my first European race, and that was a good indicator on whether I could hack it with the guys in Europe, basically, and I went from twenty first to third in the final, so that was good for my career, put it that way.
ELLIE: Was it difficult to adjust to living in Europe after moving from Australia?
OSCAR: Yes and no. It was more difficult mainly just because I was leaving everything I knew behind, mainly just the people. I moved over with just my dad for the first six months and left my mum and three sisters at home; that wasn’t easy on me but also on my dad as well. That was the longest he’d spent away from my mum and my sisters, so that side of things was quite tough. Basically, I spent of moving to Europe with my dad and then after that I went to boarding school and I think that definitely helped me to integrate to life here because that was like living with a bunch of mates the whole time. For me, that was one of the best moves we ever made.
The year I did the European karting season, I stayed the whole season with my dad and every second that I wasn’t racing, I was thinking about what I could’ve done better, what went wrong and just over-analysing everything. When I went to school, at the beginning it was probably a little bit of a shock because I’d spent six months out of school so I had to catch back up to everything and get back into the groove but indirectly, it was taking my mind off worrying about racing. I think throughout my single seater career, I got better at identifying that’s what was helping me and I used that as a positive. Now that I’m out of school I have to try and find something to occupy my time. When it came to boarding school, I didn’t really have any choice because my dad was like, ‘if you want to come and race in Europe, that’s fine with me but I’m not spending years away from the rest of the family, so either you’re going to boarding school and sorting it out yourself, or you can come back home’. So I went, well, boarding school doesn’t sound too bad, I’m sure I can get used to it and I want to race over in Europe, so if that’s what it takes.
ELLIE: Was the competition different in Europe compared to in Australia?
OSCAR: I think it’s like what I said before. The skill of the drivers at the very top was very similar between Europe and Australia. It was the depth of the field in Europe that was much bigger, so, like I said, there was probably twenty or more people that could pretty much realistically win any weekend, whereas in Australia, there was maybe four or five. It was more the depth of the field which was more difficult to get used to.
After a successful second season in the Formula Renault Eurocup Championship (2019), Oscar was given the opportunity to become part of the Renault Sport Academy. With backing from the Formula 1 team in the form of finance, physical and mental coaching, to name a few, the decision was easy. After speaking to Max Fewtrell last month, another current member of the Renault Academy, it was interesting to gain a further insight into the programme. With Renault’s continued success in Formula 1 this year, being part of their junior programme is a huge positive. Who knows what opportunities it could bring?
"Spending time at an F1 factory is a privilege."
ELLIE: What memory is most prominent from during your time in Formula Renault?
(I assumed it was winning the championship, but I just wanted to be sure.)
OSCAR: Yeah, it’s definitely hard to look past [winning the Championship]. My first year in Formula Renault wasn’t great. We were with Arden who were quite inexperienced in the championship and I didn’t really have the strongest of team mates so coming in as a rookie, into that championship, at the end of the car’s life and trying to basically develop the car as a rookie with the team wasn’t an easy task at all. That sticks out as a pretty challenging year. Obviously, the next year winning the championship definitely is one of the more positive memories of my career for sure.
ELLIE: Did becoming Formula Renault champion in 2019 impact Renault’s decision to back you?
OSCAR: Yeah. Basically, if you win Formula Renault you get offered a spot in the Academy, so you can choose to take it or not. Obviously, I chose to take it. That’s basically the reason I’m in the Academy. I like to think that if I didn’t win I’d still be considered but winning that championship definitely opened that door and it was up to me, my dad and my management to decide whether we wanted to take it.
"I had the option to go to Prema."
ELLIE: Has signing with Renault impacted your career, especially this year?
OSCAR: I think it’s definitely helped. I wouldn’t say it’s the sole reason I’ve been successful this year. I think, you know, I’m very grateful for their support and I’m sure Max [Fewtrell] would say similar things; they support us in a lot of different areas. Obviously, financially is quite an important one, but I go to Renault basically every day. I don’t live far from the factory. I go in there and train pretty much every morning. It gives me something to do in between races and keep sharp, but also you know, spending time at an F1 factory is a privilege and not many people in the world get to do that. Putting yourself in front of a lot of important people that could potentially decide your future is definitely something you’ve got to take full advantage of. It’s been really good. I’m sure like Max would’ve said, the physical training has been really good. They have a dedicated trainer for the Academy boys and they obviously do a lot of mental training alongside that as well. Even at the track, they dedicate a physio for us and there’s always someone there supporting us.
ELLIE: Would things be different without Renault’s support to the extent that you would have taken a different pathway in 2020?
OSCAR: Before I’d won the Championship last year, I had the opportunity to go with Prema. The deal to go with Prema arose before I won the Championship so, regardless of whether I won and had Renault’s support, I had the option to go to Prema for this year. On that side of things, it didn’t really affect my plans that much, it just bolstered the support for this year and added another dimension of support, really. In terms of affecting my plans or changing my career path, I wouldn’t say it would have affected this year that much, but, obviously going forward, it can certainly impact my career a lot. There’s definitely no downside to being with Renault at all and I think it can only bring me good things, but I don’t think for this year it really would’ve changed my path.
ELLIE: Do you think if you didn’t have Renault’s support that you would have become Formula 3 Champion?
OSCAR: Personally, I kind of look at Renault’s support as much more external from the actual racing side. On the racing side of things, it’s basically up to me and the team, which in this case was Prema, to basically sort out stuff together. Obviously, Renault had an engineer helping us as well, so that was sort of a secondary influence or perspective on that, which was also helpful, but I’m the only one that can drive faster or slower. It’s more or less down to me and going with Prema was an obvious choice for us if we had the opportunity to take it, regardless of whether I was with Renault or not. I think going with Prema was definitely a very important aspect of this year as well, but Renault have certainly helped out, particularly away from the track.
Just being able to go and train with them and particularly on the training side; when I was at school, I was just training by myself and doing my own thing in between lessons but now that I’m with Renault, I can dedicate all of my time to being better and talking to important people and just surrounding myself in an F1 environment. I wouldn’t really say it had a direct impact on my success, but behind the scenes, they definitely supported me in everything they could besides setting up the car and doing the driving for me.
"I didn't know if I could win the Championship."
Now – Formula 3. Eleven weeks, nine rounds, seven different venues. The competition in the field this season was tight and the results were so close, up until the final round in Mugello, Italy, where Oscar was crowned the Champion. Partnered with Prema Racing for his rookie season, his talent was obvious, and very much the talk of the paddock. Not only did Prema win the Teams Championship with 470.5 points, but one of their three drivers, obviously Oscar, earned 164 points and scored six podiums. Talent, right?
ELLIE: At the beginning of the season, did you have any initial thought of potentially winning the Championship?
OSCAR: I thought it was possible, yeah. Whether I thought it was realistic possible is another question but I thought, given where I was with Prema, it sort of works in both ways, I guess. Obviously, it puts you in a very strong position and also adds a little bit of expectation, so you’ve got to look at it in both ways and try to use it positively. I think I definitely had the goal of being in the top five, as a minimum, and I was always going to try and go for the championship but if I didn’t win, being a rookie, you sort of have that to fall back on a little bit. I think it also would’ve depended a little bit on how my team mates went. Obviously, if my team mates were first and second in the championship and I was fifth, then it doesn’t look great for me, particularly Fred [Vesti], because he was a rookie as well. It was basically a direct comparison; I was Eurocup champion and he was Regional champion. I was more looking at my team mates to gage my own performance. It went better than I expected; I was hoping to beat my team mates but I didn’t know if I could win the championship, that’s for sure.
ELLIE: After a positive start by winning the first race in Austria, did it make anything seem more achievable?
OSCAR: I would say at that point after that race it didn’t really spark championship hopes. It was certainly a very big confidence boost because my pre-season test in Bahrain was not amazing. I had moments that were decent but in general, the test wasn’t great from my side, so I really needed that confidence boost. I’m very glad that first weekend in Austria went so well. I probably didn’t look at the championship and have a realistic target of winning until after the first three rounds really, where I was still in the lead. That first win was more just an overall confidence boost, more of a statement like, ‘okay, I can beat all of these guys and I can race with them; I’m capable of beating them whether I end up winning the championship or not’. It was just reassuring that I could do it.
"DRS didn't work for properly for six of the nine rounds."
ELLIE: Who, would you say, was your closest rival throughout the season and did it change your approach to each weekend?
OSCAR: I would say my closest rival was Logan Sargeant. For most of the championship we were basically tooth and nail, fighting for it and obviously then, [Théo] Pourchaire came in at the end. For most of the championship, I was just looking at Logan, which was a very different dynamic to the rivalry I had last year in Eurocup, for example, with [Victor] Martins, because we were in separate teams.
This year was mainly just against Logan but I wouldn’t really call it a rivalry, per say. I think we both just wanted to go out and win; it wasn’t specifically ‘I’m going to go out and beat Logan’ or Logan wasn’t thinking ‘I’m going to go out and beat Oscar’, because we didn’t really have much margin to be able to just focus on each other. We had to keep an eye on the guys behind, which, in the end, it was a good thing we did because Pourchaire nearly ended up getting both of us. The second half of the season, I focused more on what Logan was doing, but I knew that if I was doing the best job that I could and I was winning races then naturally that would sort things out. Obviously, I was trying to make sure I’d beat Logan but I was trying to make sure I’d beat everyone, so it didn’t really impact my mindset much.
ELLIE: As the championship grew closer, how did you manage to keep calm with the pressure of potentially winning the championship?
OSCAR: I don’t really know. My personality is quite calm and relaxed anyway, so I would say that was probably one of my biggest strength this year. I had quite a lot of obstacles to overcome; DRS didn’t work properly for six of the nine rounds and other issues, so I would definitely say that [my personality] played to my strengths. I just tried to focus on making sure I could do the best job that I could.
I use, (she doesn’t really like being called a mental coach), but she’s more or less a mental coach, she’s from Australia, her name is Emma Murray. She works with the Richmond football team, an Australian rules football team and she’s their mental coach as well. She’s also done a lot of work with Scott McLaughlin [currently in IndyCar] as well. Mid-way through last year she contacted me and she’s a family friend with my mum, so I was using her quite a lot. I used her at the end of last year, because to be honest, it was probably more important in my Eurocup season because that was the first time I’d been in that situation. I used her, basically just to calm myself down and get my mind in gear, this season as well. I think also having that past experience from Eurocup helped, it kind of reassured me, like, ‘I’ve been in this position before, I won, I can do it again’ and just not focusing on the end goal and focusing on what’s in front of you at that moment.
ELLIE: What did it feel like going into the final race at Mugello knowing that the result would determine your overall points finish in the championship?
OSCAR: I was quite relaxed, but more so because going into the final race, from where I was starting, I was almost outside of the championship, even though I was still leading the championship. I was starting eleventh, I think Logan was fifth and Pourchaire was eighth. Pourchaire, to be fair, needed to put in a strong drive, which he did, to clinch it but I’d basically accepted that there was a very good chance that I wasn’t going to win the championship. I guess that can work one of two ways. It can either drag you down or just relax you and I think it kind of just relaxed me and I went out there trying to do the best I could. I’d accepted that if I did the best that I can and it’s still not enough then that’s all I can do; I can’t do anything more, so I was quite at ease, I would say, with the fact that there was a strong chance I wouldn’t win the championship.
Obviously once I saw Logan was out, I had a few laps of ‘oh my God, unfortunate for him’, but it couldn’t have really gone much better for me. Obviously, Théo was very quick and then I had to get my act together and pick up a few spots. I was pretty calm before the race really, mainly because I’d accepted that ‘I’m kind of the outsider now’, so it was up to the others, more or less, to give it to me rather than me actually go out and chase it which, in the end, kind of happened.
ELLIE: Was there any moment during the final race when you thought Pourchaire would take the championship from you?
OSCAR: After Logan went out, I was much more comfortable, I would say, with what I needed to do, but then after the Safety Car, I think I lost three or four spots and Théo made up three or four spots, so that was in the back of my mind. I knew that he still had to make more progress to beat me and then he started making that progress and I realised I really needed to start getting my act together. There were a few laps of the race where I thought I was a position further back than I was and if I finished in the position I thought I was, I would’ve lost. I had a few laps of panic, but once I knew, with five or so laps to go, that Théo wasn’t going to catch the guy ahead and I wasn’t under attack from anyone behind, then I was quite relaxed and comfortable and I was just making sure I stayed on the track.
"I was in disbelief that I'd won."
ELLIE: Did you know as soon as you crossed the line that you were FIA Formula 3 Champion?
OSCAR: Yeah, so I knew a couple of laps before the end. I knew that if we both finished where we were, then I would win the championship, so the photo finish was just a nice cherry on top, basically. I knew I didn’t have to do it, but the opportunity was there and I just went for it, but I knew straight away that I won the championship. It was still pretty crazy to believe, like given everything that went on in the race and whatnot.
ELLIE: So, what was it like crossing the line and knowing you were the Champion?
OSCAR: To be honest, it just took a long time to actually sink in. Like I said, I kind of accepted there wasn’t a good chance that I was going to win, so it was almost unexpected that I won, in my eyes, in that last race. I was just smiling the whole way round and I couldn’t believe we’d actually won and yeah, it was pretty nuts. Then, a few hours later, it sunk in, once I got all the messages and gained seven thousand Instagram followers, it sunk in, what I’d done. When I crossed the line, I was in disbelief that I’d won.
When Oscar announced on Twitter that he would be participating in an F1 test in Bahrain, I couldn’t believe my luck. I was so excited to speak to him about it and ask him a few questions.
"I want to do that as my job."
Not everyone is lucky enough to test a Formula 1 car as a junior driver. With the hope of one day reaching F1, this opportunity was undoubtedly amazing for Oscar. Alongside Formula 2 drivers, Christian Lundgaard (ART Grand Prix) and Guanyu Zhou (UNI Virtuosi), both of whom are Renault Academy drivers, Oscar jetted off to Bahrain for one day of testing the R.S.18 at the International Circuit. Prior to the test, he said to Autosport, ‘I am very excited to be driving the R.S.18 next week in Bahrain’. Speaking to him after his test in the latest F1 car not to be limited by restrictions regarding testing, I can confirm that Oscar definitely did enjoy the experience. He spoke about the opportunity very proudly.
ELLIE: What were your expectations for going into the test?
OSCAR: Firstly, I wanted to make sure I didn’t crash the car because that’s an expensive rookie mistake to make. I think, expectation wise, I wasn’t massively concerned about my pace. It was nice that my pace was pretty strong, but I mainly went into it trying to learn as much as I could and soak up the day because you don’t get to drive an F1 car every day (well, not yet anyway, hopefully that’s in the near future). As a first experience you’ve got to make sure you enjoy it, firstly, and the second objective was to learn as much as I can.
I think in F1 there’s a lot of different things that can contribute to your success rather than just straight out speed. Learning all the other aspects of what makes an F1 team quick and how a driver and team relationship can influence your result so much. Learning all the different buttons on the steering wheel and how to use them, when to use them, was important and then I had two different tyre compounds, which was the first time I’d had that in my life. Adjusting to that was another thing to get used to as well.
Naturally, using it as some F2 prep; there’s a few things, like the tyre compound changes that translate to F2. I just wanted to make sure I had fun, firstly, and learn as much as I could. If I’m fast on track and impress a few people then that’s a bonus, but yeah, just making sure I had fun and extracted the most as I could to store in my brain for, hopefully, next time.
ELLIE: What did you learn during your time in Bahrain?
OSCAR: A lot of things, really. I think because in an F1 car, it’s not just spec parts and you can develop your own parts and stuff, you can really physically change the car to suit you, rather than in F3 for example, and all junior single seaters where you have to adapt to the car you’re given. The teams can adjust the set up to an extent, but they can’t build you a whole new front wing, or something, to help you, so I think learning that mentality was something I had to get used to, but there’s also a lot of different switches and stuff you can change on the steering wheel, to basically mould how you want the car to feel round what you want. Learning how to use them effectively, learning what each one does; even little mundane things that people don’t really think about, like pulling into the pit box for the first time because I’ve never done a pit stop before, stuff like that, so there were a lot of different things to take in, really.
ELLIE: When I spoke to Max, he said there was a big difference between the Formula 3 car and a Formula 1 car is the braking. Would you agree with that?
OSCAR: I’d agree, definitely. It’s definitely braking. I think, in terms of other aspects, the high-speed grip is probably the next biggest thing you notice. The acceleration and power when you have full battery deployment and the fast engine mode and whatnot is pretty spectacular, but I think most racing drivers get used to that quite quickly. Having the opposite effect where you slow down twice as fast as before, it really sort of messes with your head a bit, because one, the first time I hit the brakes, my head nearly went through the steering wheel, so even having to concentrate on physically holding your head up is something new but then also, braking, in some cases twenty or thirty metres later than I would in an F3 car, going around thirty miles an hour faster, it takes a little bit for your brain to compute that it’s possible. The braking was definitely the biggest thing I noticed and after that, the high- speed grip, but braking was definitely something crazy.
"I will be in F2."
ELLIE: Did your experience in Bahrain fuel your aspiration to reach Formula 1 even more?
OSCAR: Yes. I think now that I’ve had my first taste of F1, it’s just such a cool car and obviously it’s the fastest car in the world, so naturally I want to drive it and now I’ve experienced it first hand, I’m very sure it’s what I want to do. I would say it’s fuelled my aspirations but I wouldn’t say it’s distracted me from what I need to do in order to get there. You have to treat these tests, obviously to learn, but you can’t accept that that’s normal, basically. You accept that it’s something you’re very lucky to do and you have to earn it. I think it’s definitely given me, not that I really needed clarity on whether I want to be an F1 driver or not, but to experience it first hand was very cool and I want to do that as my job. I think it definitely has.
ELLIE: And finally, can you tell me anything about your plans next year?
(At this point, Oscar smiled, very widely…)
OSCAR: I will be in F2, I just can’t tell you where. But yes, I will be in F2. I will be doing the post-season test in Bahrain. As of now, I can’t say where I will be for next year.
Fair to say we all know who I'll be supporting in Formula 2 next year...
Follow Oscar on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with his future plans!
Photo Credit: Oscar Piastri, FIA Formula 3