Oscar Piastri believes McLaren’s “biggest” challenge this season will be maintaining last year’s momentum as even if they stand still, they’d be “going backwards”.
McLaren made a wretched start to last year’s championship when Piastri recorded a DNF due to an electrical failure on debut in Bahrain while a pneumatic problem meant Lando Norris pitted six times in what was effectively a day of pit stop practice for the Briton and his crew.
Realising early on that reliability wasn’t the MCL60’s only issue, the car generally lacking in performance, the team put a B-spec car on the track at the Austrian Grand Prix.
McLaren exceeded expectations with 2023 upgrades
Almost immediately their results improved with Norris just missing out on the podium with a fourth-placed finish.
The Briton would go on to achieve seven top-three results in Grands Prix for the season while Piastri grabbed two Grand Prix podiums and won the Qatar Sprint race.
Declaring he has “complete confidence” in McLaren’s hierarchy, Piastri told Motorsport.com: “It’s exceeded everyone’s expectations of how quickly we’ve been able to turn things around.
“For me, the impressive thing was I felt there was a very good base with the race team at the races. And then when we needed to make changes, we did, and it’s worked.
“The upgrades were able to deliver everything we hoped, in some cases more than we expected in certain situations. I didn’t expect to be in this position so early in my time at McLaren.
“The numbers were as we expected, but we didn’t expect it to vault us up so far.
“Something we tried to keep in perspective at the start was, ‘Yes, we’re slow and near the back of the grid. But it’s not actually going to take that much to get towards the front’.”
The pressure is on to continue the upward trend
But now McLaren have to build on that.
Often Red Bull’s closest rival with six of Norris’ P2 results coming from losses to Max Verstappen, Piastri says the onus is now on McLaren to continue improving.
“The biggest thing is to continue the momentum. If you stand still, you’re going backwards,” said the Australian driver. “Of course, we don’t know what the other teams have around us.
“We’re happier than we were at this point 12 months ago with how things are looking. But until you’re on track with everyone else, you never quite know what it’s going to be like…
“The thing for us is, we still have pretty clear weaknesses [low-speed handling] compared to our competitors. It’s just that we also have good strengths as well.
“How those are going to balance up against each other is always difficult even for us to know. Every team has some sort of fluctuation at every circuit apart from Red Bull [at] Singapore.”
Piastri heads into his second season in Formula 1 with his medium-term future assured having signed an extension that runs through to 2026 last season. His team-mate Norris has also committed his future to McLaren, signing a multi-year deal earlier this week.