Nico Rosberg has warned Oscar Piastri of the “really, really tough” challenge he faces next season as he goes up against Lando Norris at McLaren.
Piastri will be a rookie on next year’s grid, the 21-year-old confirmed as a McLaren driver in a multi-year contract.
That announcement brought to an end a contract saga in which both Alpine and McLaren laid claim to the much-hyped driver, F1’s Contract Recognition Board ruling he was a McLaren driver for 2023 onwards.
However, in order to put him in the car McLaren first had to free up a seat, the team agreeing to pay Daniel Ricciardo a reported $20 million to walk away two years into his three-year deal.
But with all the hype around Piastri it remains to be seen what he can do in Formula 1.
Although he won three successive championships from 2019 to 2021, culminating in his Formula 2 success, F1 is a very different beast.
And Norris, as Rosberg points out, is no push-over.
“It’s a brave move by Oscar, it really is,” the 2016 World Champion told Sky Sports.
“It is either he beats Lando or he’s out basically of the sport, so it’s really, really tough, but he believes in himself. And if you think you’re that good, you’ve got to go for it.”
Norris saw off Ricciardo in their two seasons together, the eight-time grand prix winner unable to match his team-mate for pace.
Rosberg reckons if Ricciardo can’t do, Piastri won’t find it easy either.
“It is going to be tough for Oscar to do well there,” he added. “Lando is world-class, he’s World Championship material there so it’s not going to be easy to go there and do better than Daniel.
“Ricciardo is a multiple race winner, one of the best drivers in the world, and has found it unbelievably tough against Lando. Oscar is brand new to this sport!
“All the indications are that Oscar really is one of those future superstars. But I can’t really believe that suddenly Ricciardo has unlearned to drive super fast.
“Therefore, I think it’s Lando who’s just performing like a World Champion at the moment, he’s just driving so incredibly well.
“So I really think it will be a big, big challenge for Oscar next year to be close to Lando.”
Weighing in on Piastri’s decision to leave Alpine when it appeared he wouldn’t be promoted to a race seat with the team, Rosberg understands the Aussie had to seize the moment.
“For Oscar, if you’re a young driver and you have the opportunity to race for McLaren, and you’re free to do so, you have to take it,” he said. “Opportunities like that don’t come around all the time, so he’s done everything right.”
Nico Rosberg shouldn’t be so quick to write off Oscar Piastri’s challenge
Piastri and Norris have never been on the track together, not in a competitive situation, so 2023 will be an eye-opener for both young stars.
Although Norris made it onto the grid as a teenager, and Piastri will be a month shy of his 22nd birthday when he lines up in Bahrain, both drivers had meteoric rises through the junior ranks – Piastri just started a few years later as he had to move his life from Australia to the UK.
The timing means Norris will bring to their battle four years of F1 experience, however, Piastri has shown in past series that experience doesn’t matter – he adjusts fast, and he adjusts well.
Last season in F2 he saw off Ferrari junior and 2023 Haas hopeful Robert Shwartzman, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, Sauber junior Theo Pourchaire, Aston Martin reserve Felipe Drugovich, AlphaTauri hopeful Liam Lawson to name a few. And he did it in his very first season in Formula 2.
Norris may have the advantage at the very start of their partnership, but it would be short-sighted to rule out Piastri catching up quickly.