Oscar Piastri caused a stir in last year’s driver market when he signed for McLaren instead of taking on a seat with Alpine, and 1996 World Champion Damon Hill wonders if he will now be regretting that decision, given the difference in competitiveness between the two teams.
The future of Piastri, previously Alpine’s junior driver, had appeared uncertain as the team were locked in negotiations over extending Fernando Alonso’s stay with the team.
The two-time World Champion had reached an impasse in negotiations as he had been searching for a longer contract than the team were willing to offer at that time, so with the announcement of the retirement of Sebastian Vettel came Alonso taking his future into his own hands, promptly signing for Aston Martin for 2023 and beyond instead.
Alpine subsequently announced Piastri as Alonso’s replacement, but it later transpired that the young Australian had already signed a deal to race for McLaren – with the team later winning a case with the Contract Recognition Board to take on his services for the seasons ahead.
But the team have struggled at the start of the 2023 season, the MCL60 proving to be difficult for Piastri and team-mate Lando Norris to handle – with a Q3 appearance for the Formula 1 rookie in Saudi Arabia being the highlight of the year so far, after the two team-mates battled for the minor placings in the race.
Given Alpine have started the season comfortably in the midfield, Hill wondered if Piastri now regrets his decision to move to McLaren – despite the unknowns surrounding how each team would stack up pace-wise.
There is a bonus for Piastri however, in that in Norris, Hill says he has one of the highest-rated drivers in Formula 1 as his yardstick for performance on a regular basis this season.
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“He probably thought McLaren was the best option, the better environment for him,” Hill told Motorsport.com. “Alpine is good at the moment, they don’t set the world on fire, but they look more competitive than McLaren.
“So yes, maybe he does regret that, but on the other hand, he is now competing against the highly-rated Lando.
“It’s a strange thing in our sport, that as a driver you are judged on your performance against your teammate.
“You can be in a less competitive car, but all you need is to be faster than a man who some say is a future World Champion.”
Significant changes have already been made behind the scenes at McLaren as they look to arrest their decline, with technical director James Key leaving the team and a new three-person technical directorship team being put in place instead.
Piastri will return home to Melbourne for his first ever Australian Grand Prix as a Formula 1 driver next weekend, and Hill has backed him to withstand the extra scrutiny that will be on his shoulders as a result of racing at home – especially with his manager, Mark Webber, being well-versed in racing in front of his home crowd in the sport.
“He will get a lot of attention, it will be a question of whether it distracts him,” Hill said. “He does not come across to me as someone who gets easily distracted by the peripheral issues in Formula 1.
“He seems to be a very sharp and focused racer. Mark Webber will give him all the tips on how to handle his home race.”