Best F1 breakthrough since Lewis Hamilton? ‘Sponge of a driver’ praised by pundit

Oliver Harden
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton raises the trophy after finishing third at the 2023 British Grand Prix.

Sky F1 commentator David Croft has hailed Oscar Piastri’s 2023 campaign as the strongest rookie season since Lewis Hamilton in 2007.

And he has noted the role of two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso in the McLaren driver’s emergence as a potential star of the future.

Having arrived at McLaren from Alpine in controversial circumstances, former F2 and F3 title winner Piastri excelled in his debut F1 season last year.

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Additional reporting by Sam Cooper

The Australian took just three races to register his first points at his home race in Melbourne, later coming to the fore when McLaren’s impressive mid-season progress saw the team emerge as the most consistent threat to the dominant Red Bull outfit.

After qualifying inside the top four at consecutive races in Britain and Hungary, Piastri posted a time just 0.008 away from World Champion Max Verstappen in a rain-affected sprint shootout session at Spa.

The 22-year-old went on to outqualify established team-mate Lando Norris on his very first visit to the challenging Suzuka circuit in Japan, holding third place to secure his first F1 podium finish the following day.

Piastri followed that result with second place in Qatar, where he also won the sprint race from pole position – holding off a charging Verstappen – after Norris made a mistake and ran wide at the final corner of his SQ3 lap.

The youngster rounded off his first season with McLaren by qualifying an impressive third at the finale in Abu Dhabi as Norris made another error in the closing seconds of qualifying.

Speaking at the Autosport International event, attended by’s Sam Cooper, Croft highlighted Piastri’s ability to learn quickly as a key strength.

And he suggested that his time as Alpine’s reserve driver in 2022, where he worked closely with Hamilton’s former McLaren team-mate Alonso, was a key period in the 22-year-old’s development.

He said: “Oscar’s a sponge of a driver. He soaks everything up, he learns.

“He learned at the hands of Fernando Alonso. He spent a year watching Fernando in the garage and he soaked it all up and he’s used all that experience.

“It was one of the best rookie seasons, I think, since Lewis Hamilton, back in 2007. I’m a big fan of Oscar Piastri.” recommends

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Croft’s comments come after McLaren team-mate Norris praised to Piastri’s rookie campaign, admitting he handled the pressure better than he did when Norris first arrived on the grid in 2019.

“Oscar had an incredible season. Keeping calm and being yourself, it’s good to be reminded of that.

“I think he’s been very, very good at dealing with pressure, better than I feel like I remember I was when I started, but I think that’s because everyone’s very different with all of this – dealing with pressure and remaining calm and chilled.

“I think that is something that I’ve gotten a lot better with over the years – I know how to deal with all of these things much better myself now.

“I have a lot of respect for Oscar in how he was able to stay so calm in a new environment, in Formula 1, on the big stage.”

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