Aussie prodigy’s ‘extraordinary’ link to F1 stars

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System One nice Mark Webber would not hand out compliments calmly, so when he describes Melbourne’s Oscar Piastri as “top-of-the-line three juniors on this planet” it is a sign Australia has one other future star on its palms.

Piastri is at present second within the F2 championship race, one stage beneath F1, and his performances so far have caught the eye of influential members of the F1 group.

He is already a member of the Alpine junior academy, the workforce which at present employs two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

The 20-year-old is barely 5 factors off the championship lead in F2, having gained the F3 title in 2020. Certainly, such is the velocity with which he is climbed the motorsport ladder that Webber says Alpine has been caught out by his fast rise, with the workforce’s two F1 seats already sorted for 2022.

4 podium finishes in 9 races, together with a win on his debut weekend in Bahrain, have been the highlights of a constant season for Piastri in 2021.

“It has been a unprecedented efficiency for a primary yr rookie,” Webber informed Large World of Sports activities.

“We knew he was good, however he is simply completely proof against strain, he is been capable of be there when it counts each weekend.”

Piastri drives for the Prema F2 workforce, the identical outfit that took present F1 drivers Charles Leclerc (2017) and Mick Schumacher (2020) to the title.

“He is such a cool, calm and picked up teen,” Webber mentioned.

“The workforce he is driving for, they’ve had the very best within the enterprise drive for them. (Crew boss) Rene Rosin is a tough taskmaster, he is one of many hardest bosses you may have within the junior classes, however he is a large fan of Oscar.

“He has to maintain doing what he is doing now, and hopefully once we can get the Australian Grand Prix up and working once more he’ll be on the F1 grid.”

Webber, who has been guiding Piastri’s profession for the final 18 months, is not certain if his protégé will likely be in F1 subsequent yr, but when he is not, it will not be by way of lack of expertise.

With solely 20 race seats accessible, and lots of drivers already beneath contract for 2022, spots on the grid are scarce.

“We do not know what number of guys are going to maneuver up from F2 subsequent yr, however Oscar is one in all two or three which have the expertise to do it, moderately than counting on cash,” he mentioned.

“He is acquired his F1 tremendous licence already, from successful the F3 championship.

“He is top-of-the-line three juniors on this planet in my view.”

Piastri’s efficiency in successful the F3 championship in his first yr, and now contending in F2 as a rookie, hasn’t gone unnoticed by those that make the choices in F1.

The Melbournian has twice examined a System One automobile for Alpine, as soon as in Bahrain and extra lately at Silverstone, together with improvement work within the simulator for the workforce.

However Alpine have Alonso beneath contract for subsequent season, and lately re-signed Esteban Ocon on a brand new three-year deal.

“First yr of F2 is tough,” Webber famous.

“Do not underestimate how onerous it’s. It is actually difficult. (Lando) Norris, (Charles) Leclerc, (George) Russell, (Lewis) Hamilton, (Nico) Rosberg, the fellows who’ve actual expertise, all of them confirmed one thing of their first yr, and that is what Oscar is doing proper now.

“That is what individuals are speaking about within the F1 paddock with Oscar. He is really gone too quick for Alpine, he is gone up the ladder too rapidly. Alpine already have Ocon and Fernando for 2022.

“So it is a bit of a headache for Alpine, how briskly Oscar is progressing. That is clearly a great drawback to have. They do not wish to be dropping him, they’re working onerous to maintain him and that is an incredible state of affairs for Oscar to be in, as a result of he is doing all his speaking on the monitor.”

Not like Mercedes, Ferrari and Crimson Bull, Alpine do not have a junior workforce in F1 the place they will ship their younger drivers to achieve expertise.

That is a possible drawback for Piastri. The F2 chief, China’s Guanyu Zhou, can be a member of the Alpine academy, and F1 is thought to be eager to draw a Chinese language driver to open up the profitable market in that nation.

Zhou is rumoured to have as much as $50m behind him to safe a drive in F1, a determine that Piastri can solely dream of, with Australian firms reluctant to help younger motorsport expertise. Zhou lately took half in a Friday observe session for Alpine on the Austrian Grand Prix, an necessary step for the Chinese language driver, who, not like Piastri, hasn’t but certified for an F1 tremendous licence.

“Alpine know that Oscar ought to actually be the one one,” Webber mentioned.

“Zhou is doing properly now, however he took three years to get by way of F3, and now it is his third yr of F2. He is good at that stage, however I extremely doubt that he is F1 materials over the course of a season.

“We have seen plenty of occasions that Oscar can adapt and ship actually rapidly, and that is what F1 groups like.

“It will be good if Alpine had one other workforce, like Mercedes and Crimson Bull do, however they do not. However Alpine’s junior program has been nice for Oscar, they usually know that he is their primary man. We have simply started working out an answer with Alpine for the longer term, I am assured it will likely be OK.”

The winner of the F2 championship is barred from competing within the class once more subsequent yr, however with spots in F1 so onerous to return by, it is not clear what which means for whoever wins the title.

A cagey Webber would not rule out an F1 drive for Piastri subsequent season, however admitted the choices are drying up rapidly.

“By no means say by no means, as a result of unusual issues can occur in System One, there is no doubt about that,” he mentioned.

“The F2 championship would not end till December, no person is aware of who’s going to win the championship, however clearly by then all of the F1 seats will likely be taken.

“Subsequent yr, let’s examine. We’re not excluding something at this stage. Given what Oscar is doing, there’s naturally some curiosity in him.

“It is fairly slim pickings proper now for subsequent yr, however he is in that ultimate group, that is thrilling.”

No matter the place Piastri leads to 2022, Webber says the longer term is vivid, each on and off the monitor.

“Alpine know they’ve an insane asset that they personal, and they should work out what they’ll do with somebody of Oscar’s stage.

“He is absolute class. He speaks properly, and I am informed the women reckon he is getting higher wanting each month, so that will not harm him both!”

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