Mark Webber has revealed that Oscar Piastri initially felt hesitant over taking on Daniel Ricciardo’s drive at McLaren, due to the lack of Australian representation on the Formula 1 grid.
Piastri’s arrival into the sport was the most talked-about part of the 2022 ‘silly season’, with Alpine having announced him as their replacement for Fernando Alonso, to step up from reserve driver, but it later came to light that he had signed a pre-contract agreement with McLaren several weeks earlier to replace Ricciardo.
Webber, Piastri’s manager, said that McLaren was the best and most realistic option on the table for them at the time, even if it meant having to displace one of his countrymen in order to get onto the grid.
Mark Webber explains circumstances behind Oscar Piastri arrival into F1
After the announcement from Alpine that he would become a driver for them in 2023, Piastri’s response saying he would not drive for them went viral, the implication being that he already had a deal in place elsewhere.
A hearing with the FIA’s Contract Recognitions Board followed and they found in McLaren’s favour, paving the way for Piastri to have his rookie season with the Woking-based team – though Webber explained that there was an initial reluctance on the youngster’s part to take the seat of another Australian.
Webber, a former title challenger with Red Bull, explained that the ruthless nature of Formula 1 meant that because of Ricciardo’s struggles, had it not been Piastri taking the seat, the drive would have gone elsewhere.
“It’s clear that Daniel had two very tough seasons as a McLaren driver,” Webber said in an interview with GP Racing Magazine.
“If Oscar hadn’t replaced him this year, another driver would have done it. He said at the time that he was taking the seat from another Australian and there aren’t many of us who have raced in Formula 1, but what can you say, it was McLaren’s decision and in the end, it’s clear that it was the right one.
“People thought we had a lot of options for 2023, but really, we didn’t. At McLaren they were fantastic.
“At McLaren they were fantastic and above all, very clear from the start, which was something Oscar loved.
“It was clear to him that someone wanted him to drive for them and it was an easy decision for us.”
Piastri thoroughly impressed in his rookie season with McLaren, taking sprint victory in Qatar along with two podium finishes – the first rookie with multiple podiums since Lewis Hamilton managed that feat in 2007 – while Ricciardo managed to make it back onto the grid mid-season after a driver swap at AlphaTauri, replacing the struggling Nyck de Vries.