Oscar Piastri joked that James Hunt-style “big balls” were behind his searing Belgian Grand Prix pace after almost beating Max Verstappen to pole position for the sprint race.
After a quiet start to his F1 career in a midfield McLaren, the team’s improvement in recent weeks has allowed the 22-year0old to show what he can do.
Having followed up a fourth-place finish at Silverstone with fifth in Hungary, Piastri emerged as the biggest threat to Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull in Saturday’s sprint shootout session, missing out on pole by just 0.011 seconds.
Oscar Piastri reveals James Hunt inspiration after McLaren shock
Piastri recently drove Hunt’s title-winning 1976 McLaren at the Goodwood Festival of Speed event and, when asked how he had managed to be 1.7 seconds faster than seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton in the middle sector alone, gave a nod to the F1 legend.
He said: “I mean, I drove James Hunt’s car last weekend, so ‘big balls’.
“I think our car is very good, we’re running more downforce than everybody so where there’s more corners naturally we’re going to be better.
“I felt like it was a good lap, felt like I couldn’t get much more out of that. I tried my best, did what the car allowed me to do. It was almost good enough to be quickest.”
Piastri agreed that he had been pipped to sprint pole by the finest of margins, stating: “Yeah, especially in conditions like that. You can lose that much time and about 100 times that very easily.
“I was very happy with my lap, I thought I did a good job. Of course, there’s always points in the lap where you think I could have gained 11 thousandths, but it’s still been a very good session.
“Our car really likes it when it’s like that, clearly, we were good yesterday in Q2 when it was like that.
“It’s a nice place to be. I think if there’s one track where you want to start second instead of first, it’s probably here – so I’m going to say I did it on purpose!
“But we’ll see how we go. Obviously, the weather could change again for the sprint, so either I’ll have hopefully a nice tow down to Turn 5 or be able to at least see where I’m going.
“I just can’t thank the team enough. It’s still pretty amazing that we’re disappointed with being on the front row and just missing out on pole. We’ll see what we can do this afternoon.”
Asked if McLaren could compete for victory in the sprint, Piastri said: “Yeah, I hope so.
“I think it depends a bit on the conditions. We’re not the quickest in Sectors 1 and 3, which is where all the straights are, and we’re very quick in the middle, where all the corners are.
“It’s not going to be easy regardless of the conditions, the weather’s still looming around.
“So we’ll see what we can do. But I think we can be confident we’re starting in a good spot and hopefully, we can finish that.”