20 races, ten venues, seven wins, 11 podiums, five pole positions, five fastest laps, one championship title. 2019 has been a fantastic season for 18-year old racer Oscar Piastri.
After a whirlwind few weeks which included the Formula Renault Eurocup season finale, two days testing an FIA Formula 3 Championship car, a promotional trip back home to Australia, and college studies, the Melbournian took some time to sit down and look back on the year. Here are his thoughts on the first half of the campaign:
“I had learned so much in my first season of the Formula Renault Eurocup and was ready to take it to another level with R-ace GP this time out. While there were plenty of options, we knew we wanted to do another year in the series as Renault runs a fantastic championship which is well organised, visits some great circuits, and had an exciting new car to get to grips with.
“We started the season at Monza in Italy, where the weather conditions were mixed. Race one wasn’t that good and until the next meeting at Silverstone, I was thinking I had lost points, so I was pissed off with myself about making contact and damaging my front wing. I tried to go around the outside and still committed to the move but by the time I pulled out of it he was still trying to stop for the corner so I kind of turned in three times because he was going so slow and then I misjudged it a bit.
“Fourth in race two was a decent result and we could hopefully continue in that way for the next few rounds. The confidence was still there, it wasn’t at its peak for sure, especially on dry pace, but in race two with [R-ace GP team-mates] Alex [Smolyar] winning, myself fourth, and Caio [Collet] sixth, we were confident with our wet weather pace and in the dry we were quite quick until I picked up damage.
“There was still a lot of learning happening that weekend. I was running fourth or fifth in race one which is where I should have been for the weekend because we didn’t have the pace to win. I think after Monza we kind of knew how the car had to be set up and the balance we needed to be quick. We discovered the way forward.
“Moving to Silverstone, practice was good, but we weren’t miles quicker than anyone, though definitely in the mix in all conditions. Qualifying one was nice because I didn’t know if we had the potential for pole so to get that with Alex second was good because it reaffirmed I was driving well and as a team we could step forward. The result for race one was more relief than joy because Alex was leading then his car broke so it was gifted to me, but to get the first win and be up the front legitimately was good, and then we backed it up the next day, especially with qualifying.
“I was more pleased with qualifying than race two to be honest because I have never had a session where I’ve had that much of a gap, ever [0.595s]. To have that over my teammate was a massive confidence boost. In the race I could enjoy it a lot more because I did a decent job at the start and it wasn’t gifted to me; I won that one properly. To have the first and second win and the first weekend where everything went right, and I executed everything well, was really helpful going forward.
“After Monza, I was wondering whether anyone was going to be at the front the whole time or if it would be a mixed bag. After Silverstone, it was like “there’s no doubt anymore. We’ve just had an awesome weekend where we’re in the lead of the championship by a decent chunk. At that point I didn’t really care about the championship but being there was quite nice because it reassured me that everything would be alright going forward, especially as we didn’t think Silverstone was a fluke. Even for myself, I didn’t feel like I had to drive like superman to be that quick, we just naturally had a lot of speed. When you have that much pace over everyone and don’t feel like you’re doing anything special it is really confidence-inducing.
“I think the next meeting at Monaco was one of the most well-rounded weekends we had, even if the results didn’t show it. Our pace was really strong. In qualifying, it was quite irritating to lose a quick lap, but my mindset going into the races wasn’t that we could win. You can’t have that because if you’re going to try and pass the front five guys, who are quick, you can’t expect to make too many positions. I would have been fine with finishing both races where I started, but to finish fourth and fifth I was happy with. In race one there wasn’t any more I could have done, I couldn’t have caught first, second, and third.
“Looking back at race two, I could have tried harder to pass Caio, but if we’d have crashed, I would have lost the championship by that many points. It was good because we went out saying ‘that was the most we could have got out of the situation,’ so it was a pretty positive weekend.
“There was a bit of a gap to Paul Ricard but, besides stalling, it was another decent weekend. I don’t think anyone was going to stop [Lorenzo] Colombo. To qualify second both times, especially in front of the other MP Motorsport cars was good. In qualifying two there was a chance for pole but even still, if I had got it, he was still really quick. I got in front at the start and still finished eight seconds behind him, so second was the best result I could have had.
“I knew if I was going to get in front it would have had to be at the start and he was quick off the line all year, so I went in with an open mind, thinking ‘if I get him at the start and hold on then awesome, but if not I need to make sure I finish second,’ especially as Martins was third. I knew MP had pace at the end of the race, so once I saw Colombo was gone, I was trying to hang on for second place.
“Race two was one of the worst of the year. It was one of the three big mistakes I made. Stalling at the start was bad but the whole first lap was bad on top, so it was a bit messy. I would have been happy to get back into the top ten from last place, but halfway through the race I saw I had so much pace over everyone that I wasn’t really thinking about getting past people as quickly as I could but as efficiently as I could so I could get to the next driver as quickly as possible.
“I made some big moves on the last lap and they paid off in the end, so to say my worst finish of the year, except for race one at Monza, was sixth after stalling and being last on the opening lap was a good comeback. It was like Barcelona later in the year. Looking back on those races I am glad I did as good of a job coming back through the field, even if this one was self-inflicted, as it made the difference in the end in the championship.
“There was a big break between Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps, and I don’t think I did anything to do with racing in the two months in between, but it was nice to have time away from racing, focusing on school, and I got to go home as well. It was really nice to see everyone, which helps a lot. I’m not homesick but everything is back to normal, if you will, when I go home.
“Spa was really hot, but it was the same for everybody, though being from Australia I have dealt with it a little bit before on a race weekend. It didn’t change much but was a bit more uncomfortable, particularly when you got out of the car. The worst was after one session when we were held in the pitlane. Driving isn’t too bad because you get some air, but when you’re sitting there in the sun with a hot engine behind you it was pretty tough.
“The racing itself was a bit strange. We were third in qualifying for race one and the win was probably the second biggest behind Abu Dhabi, because [Victor] Martins was on pole, so to beat him in a straight fight was good for the championship and my confidence, knowing we were faster than him and it wasn’t a fluke. MP was pretty strong that weekend, but I could match them, so qualifying third was alright because pole at Spa isn’t that important.
“The second day I started eighth because qualifying started wet and dried out and I had no rear tyres left. I went out straight away while it was raining a bit and went balls out to put a lap in as quickly as I could in case it got worse. It worked for the start of the session but because it was so hot it dried up just as quickly. I knew I was screwed because I pushed my tyres the hardest, so it was unlucky really, but it didn’t bother me that much because there were people ahead of me who weren’t there on pace, so I knew if I could clear them quickly or they could hold people up that it would be alright.
“Spa is a funny track. Having prior race knowledge there is quite useful, so I knew if I got a good run out of turn one and stuck in the tow, whatever side it was, that I had a good chance of getting around people before getting on the brakes, so that was the strategy. That race we got everything out of – aside from stewards throwing a red flag before the finish line – so to get fourth and beat Martins again as he was shaping up to be the championship rival, was another positive. It would have been nice if he didn’t get the points when he was involved in the red flag incident, and I got third, but in the end, it didn’t matter. At the time I was thinking ‘if this decides the championship I’m going to be pretty pissed off,’ but to dominate the next weekend put that to bed pretty quickly.”
Join Oscar again for part two, coming soon!