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How raised “self-awareness” will boost Piastri in his second F1 year

The testing he did with an old Alpine gave him a head start, but that programme ended in the summer of 2022 after his move to McLaren was announced.

He didn’t sit in a racing car in the second half of the year, and his Bahrain debut was his first race since the 2022 F2 finale some 15 months earlier.

He not only had to go through the usual rookie learning process but also had to do it with a car that was uncompetitive and difficult to drive in the early races of the season. In the second half, his growing experience and a much-improved MCL60 gave him the opportunity to shine.

With his hectic first year behind him, and having had a winter to catch his breath, he now has an opportunity to make a further step. His team boss Andrea Stella has an intriguing take on how Piastri has improved in the past 12 months.

“We have seen, if I compare to last year in Bahrain, much more – let’s say – self-awareness,” says the Italian. “Like [understanding] where the limit of the car is, where the limit in terms of him being a rookie is.

“Sometimes when you are a rookie you need to explore so many options in terms of driving that you are not sure if it’s me, that I need to drive in a different way, or is it the car that needs to behave in a different way?

“I feel now he is much more aware, much more rapidly, of ‘I need to adapt in this way, in this place. But the car needs to do this for me.’ So this awareness has definitely improved.”

Andrea Stella, McLaren Team Principal, Oscar Piastri, McLaren

Andrea Stella, McLaren Team Principal, Oscar Piastri, McLaren

Photo by: McLaren

Stella says that the change in Piastri was evident during last week’s test in Bahrain, his first proper chance to enjoy any extended running away from the pressures of a race weekend since the same session a year earlier.

“Day one already, while he was doing some continuous laps, he made a click in terms of performance,” says Stella. “And then from that point onwards, he kind of took these improvements into the next run.

“So this happens much, much quicker. That’s the main thing that was apparent to me. And also, I would say, this awareness that I referred to from a driving point of view, I can see also in his interaction with the engineers, with the rest of the team. So a much more mature driver.”

Asked by Motorsport.com if Stella’s assessment rings true – particularly as to knowing if performance gains can come from himself or from the set-up – Piastri agrees.

“When you’ve got the experience to compare to, it gives you a much quicker baseline, and a much better baseline on whether it’s something with the car or something with me,” says a “more relaxed” Australian.

“And because there’s so many things that are still similar or the same as last year, it makes that quite easy to kind of pick up. And also just with a year of experience in anything, that self-awareness becomes much better.

“Also probably at the end of last season it was a pretty tough few months for everybody. When I came back at the start of this year, and including this test, I’ve kind of realised just how draining last season was.

“I feel like I’m a bit sharper again now, and able to be a bit more self-aware. I think that comes with experience, but also just with other things as well.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren F1 Team

Oscar Piastri, McLaren F1 Team

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Piastri admits that with no regulation changes and the 2023 Pirellis carried over into this season, the transition from the MCL60 to the new MCL38 is easier than it might otherwise have been.

“Of course it’s a new car this year, but the regs are the same, and the tyres are the same,” he says.

“So instead of trying to learn, firstly, a new car, with new tyres, and very different regulations, that was all stable this year, and I can focus on the more specific things of how I drive it, and certain things I want to work on from last year.”

Piastri himself is a better package this year, so what of the car? Last year’s model was competitive by the end of the season, but there were still areas which had to be addressed over the winter.

“We still have work to do on some things,” he says. “But certainly some aspects of the low-speed handling, and just the handling in general, we have made a step forward on.

“As Andrea has kind of said in the lead-up, we’ve not been able to tackle everything in the time that we’ve had in the off-season. So there’s still a lot of hard work going on to fully make the car a bit nicer to drive.

“It’s quite familiar from last year, as you would expect. All these cars across the grid are very dominated by the regulations. So I think nobody’s car is going to be feeling wildly different to one another.

“Any differences are going to be pretty small, especially if you’re in the same team from year to year. So some improvements, but definitely still some areas where we want to make some decent step forwards.”

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Expanding on the theme of what needs to be better, he adds: “Mainly just to do with the races. There were some races last year that were strong, but there were definitely some where I struggled more. And a lot of those sort of had similar characteristics, let’s say. So it’s certainly some sort of tyre management areas that I want to focus on.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Where does McLaren stand in the 2024 pecking order? At some races in the second half of last season, the team led the pursuit of Red Bull, and thanks to Piastri, it was actually in front in the Qatar sprint.

The Bahrain test suggested that Ferrari and Mercedes are ahead in the chase of the world champions and that McLaren and Aston Martin are not far behind. However it’s very early days, and Sakhir is quite a specific circuit.

“I like to think that we’re somewhere towards the front of the grid,” says Piastri. “I certainly don’t feel at the moment that we’re in a position to challenge Red Bull. I’m not sure anyone on the grid particularly feels that way at the moment!

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“But I think we’re somewhere towards the front. Without jumping to very early conclusions, just with some past results around Bahrain specifically, and sort of the handling limitations we’ve had in the past, Bahrain is not on paper a great circuit for us.

“It’s a pretty unique circuit, compared to the rest of the season. Firstly, we’re driving in the day [during the test], where we’d never race. And also just the tarmac, that’s very different to a lot of places we go to now.

“So it’s a bit hard to tell. And I expect it to still chop and change quite a lot, depending on the circuit characteristics. It’s very hard to get a read on where everyone else sits at the moment. The only pretty clear conclusion from everyone is that Red Bull looks strong.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, leads Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, leads Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The area in which McLaren so obviously excelled last year was car development. While the curve is unlikely to be as steep given that the team is in a much stronger starting position, it has to continue to bring upgrades which work and do exactly what the wind tunnel said they would do.

What was particularly impressive about last year’s progress was that it happened in the wake of the restructuring after the departure of former technical director James Key, and with a brand-new wind tunnel coming online in Woking in the summer, so there was a lot going on.

All the pieces are now in place, with new recruits Rob Marshall and David Sanchez also able to contribute to moving the team forwards.

“We have all the resources at our disposal now,” says Piastri. “We’ve got our new wind tunnel up and running, and our new sim, which has been good. So I feel like all the infrastructure is there now.

“We’ve got all our latest hires, which will hopefully give an added boost to what was already a strong team. We still have work to do – these things don’t happen overnight. Rob and David specifically have been at the team for a month, so we’re not going to find half a second or a second in that timeframe, it’s going to take a year or more.

“But we showed last year that we already had a team that was capable of turning things around very quickly.

“So hopefully, we’ll see what the gap really is next week, and where we actually sit. But yes, I feel like we have everything at our disposal now. Now we just need to use it to the best of our ability and capability, and hopefully we’ll be right up towards the front.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Erik Junius

This article was originally published by a www.motorsport.com . Read the Original article here. .

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