Who is Oscar Piastri? The kid causing a stir in F1

It wasn’t all that long ago that Formula 1 prodigy Oscar Piastri was facing the grim reality of another year stuck on the sidelines.

Now, there’s an all-out war between two championship-winning F1 teams – McLaren and Alpine – for the services of the young Australian who could, ironically, replace dethroned countryman Daniel Ricciardo.

Since 2020, Piastri has been part of the Alpine Academy, dating back to its previous guise as Renault.

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Very few drivers in the various junior academies make it to F1. Ultimately, they only serve to weed out the best from the best, and even then only a handful make it to the top.

Although many drivers come and go, at least half of the current full-time drivers on the grid have been through junior programs, namely with Ferrari and Red Bull, at some point.

The Alpine Academy, which traces its roots back to the early 2000s, has had nearly 50 drivers previously go through it.

In total, 12 have gone on to race in F1 and only one of them has come out of the Enstone academy and graduated into a full-time seat with the team – that being Heikki Kovalainen.

So why all the hype around a 20-something from Melbourne?

By all accounts, Piastri was going to be Alpine’s first success story out of its new-look academy after it rebranded in 2021.

The team went so far as to announce that he would be racing alongside Esteban Ocon in 2023. Deal done, right? However, that might not come to pass if Piastri has his way.

It’s no real surprise that the young Australian has eyes on him. His prolific junior career is as good as some of the best on the F1 grid and better than most.

Born to Italian-Australian parents, the 21-year-old has had a meteoric rise.

An unconventional introduction to motorsport saw him win national-level radio-controlled car competitions before he began karting at 10 years old.

Like Ricciardo, Piastri was quick to leave Australia at a young age to pursue his dream. At just 15, he moved to the United Kingdom where he began competing in British Formula 4.

After a breakout season in which he finished second overall in 2017, Piastri graduated to Formula Renault for 2018.

A solid if unspectacular debut season was followed by a barnstorming title win in 2019. It was that success that earned him a spot at the Alpine Academy.

He was soon sprung onto the Formula 1 undercard where he made the biggest waves.

There, he would win the FIA ​​Formula 3 and then FIA Formula 2 title back-to-back, joining only Ferrari ace Charles Leclerc and Mercedes prodigy George Russell to have the accolade.

Few could argue that Piastri didn’t deserve a seat in F1, so why the wait?

Winning the F2 title precluded him from racing in it again and by the time the title had wrapped up Alpine already had Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso signed for 2022.

As Piastri’s manager Mark Webber told Nine’s Wide World of Sports in July last year, his success was to his detriment. Not even Alpine had anticipated the swift upward trajectory.

“He’s actually gone too fast for Alpine, he’s gone up the ladder too quickly,” said Webber.

“Alpine have already got Ocon and Fernando for 2022. So it’s a bit of a headache for Alpine, how fast Oscar is progressing.

“That’s obviously a good problem to have. They don’t want to be losing him, they’re working hard to keep him and that’s a tremendous situation for Oscar to be in, because he’s doing all his talking on the track.”

Adding insult to injury, talks of Piastri being loaned to Alfa Romeo Sauber were quickly kiboshed when it became evident that fellow Alpine Academy driver Guanyu Zhou, who finished third to Piastri in F2, had big backing to get him a seat at the Swiss outfit.

Ocon, being French, was a lock. The 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix winner signed a contract to stick around until the end of 2024.

Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, looked likely to extend his contract at Alpine beyond 2022, and there was no guarantee that he would leave shortly thereafter to open the door for Piastri.

It’s no surprise then that Piastri and his management team went looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Talks of a deal with Williams came and went before the well-documented saga that saw Sebastian Vettel announce his retirement, Alonso take his place at Aston Martin, Alpine announce Piastri for 2023, Piastri deny that he’d done a deal, Ricciardo and McLaren split, before confirmation from that Piastri had signed with McLaren.

There is a certain irony in all of this that Piastri went from looking unlikely to land a seat in 2023 to having two teams fighting over him.

It’s all set to come to a head on Monday when the FIA ​​Contract Recognition Board sees whether Alpine or McLaren have any legs to stand on.

“Now it’s become apparent he’s signed a contract with McLaren,” Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer told Canal+ at the Belgian Grand Prix.

“In Formula 1, you can’t sign two contracts. That’s why we have the Contract Recognition Board that is set up by the FIA ​​and is part of the Conchord Agreement.

“I think the reason for that board is because drivers have been known to do this in the past.

“We will see on Monday which contract is valid, which takes precedence and then after that we’ll decide.”

F1 is famous for its silly season, and this is about as silly as it gets.

If one thing holds true, it’s that Piastri looks like he’ll be on the F1 grid in 2023 and the Australian Grand Prix will have his first bona fide hometown hero to cheer on.

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