McLaren trusts Piastri to lead the team
By Mat Coch
Thursday 21st September, 2023 - 4:37pm
A new McLaren contract for Oscar Piastri is a reflection of the confidence both parties have in the other with the former viewing the Australian as someone who can lead the team in future.
On Thursday, McLaren confirmed it had signed Piastri for a further two years, taking him through to the end of 2026.
Significant is the fact it is an all-new contract, and not merely the team exercising a clause in an existing deal. It is a signal that McLaren genuinely has faith in the young Australian.
That has never really been in doubt, it’s enthusiasm for him is one of the reasons he was lured from Alpine (or more accurately, the Anglo-French operation’s ambivalence towards Piastri’s career which pushed him away).
It has been a happy marriage. Team boss Andrea Stella has liked what he’s seen, and Piastri has grown in confidence as the year progresses.
“It is a new contract because it became very apparent for us that we wanted to secure these prospects and we wanted to realise the full extent of the collaboration,” Stella said when asked about the deal by Speedcafe.
“It came at the point in which it was very apparent for us that Oscar is the right driver for McLaren.
“This has been clear to us very early, kind of the announcement comes now, but actually the agreement was found pretty early on.
“I’m happy to say that the same was on Oscar’s side, so it was recognised by both parties that this is the collaboration that should lead both parties from a team point of view and from driver point of view into the future.”
The curious point is the end date of the new deal; 2026.
It’s important as that takes Piastri a year into the sport’s next generation of rules and a year beyond where many drivers are looking to line up their contracts.
Stella has said that was less of a consideration for the team, and Piastri much the same on his front, but it also has the benefit of offsetting him by a year from Lando Norris, whose current deal goes until 2025.
It is good news for Piastri though, as in the infancy of his Formula 1 career he has something few achieve throughout their tenure in F1; stability in the medium term.
There is now no distraction over where he might go, allowing him the freedom to grow and develop in comparative comfort – not to say he will take it easy, but that he feels at home at McLaren.
That should see the best drawn out of him, and by the end of 2026 it will be clearer what his true potential is.
For that reason, a four-year tenure at McLaren at this point is no bad thing, even if McLaren fails to reach its lofty ambitions.
The team has grand plans and is working to build towards that. It has two drivers it clearly rates, has signed some top-drawer staff (some of whom have not yet joined the team), and has key infrastructure projects that are beginning to have an impact, too.
Outwardly, the signs are good at Woking, but it needs stability to help that progress.
“He is a calm, considerate person. He doesn’t have nervous reactions, he doesn’t have unnecessary irritation,” Stella said.
“It doesn’t add tension. His comments are a genuine report of what happens with the car, or genuine report or what happens in a situation that wasn’t ideal.
“But you know you can trust that what he’s saying; he’s not adding speculatively anything because he needs to promote himself, he’s kind of trustworthy, and calm.
“And to be honest, even like calmness is kind of a quality I generally try to strengthen as much as possible throughout the team.
“There’s already enough reasons to be tense, for the competition itself. Nobody should create additional [tension], just through behaviours or the way you speak to your colleagues or the way you report things emphasizing.
“Oscar is very considerate with his words, is very considered with the way he presents himself, and he’s totally trustworthy.”
Piastri is clearly considered an important element of the team’s progression over the next five or so years, and is already helping lead by example, according to Stella.
He cited the Singapore Grand Prix, where Norris had the only set of upgrades and the 22-year-old Australian never complained, publicly or privately. In fact, he never alluded to the difference as an excuse at any point.
“This decision needed to be made weeks before [the event] because we needed to change the chassis at the factory,” Stella explained of the Singapore upgrade – the second time the team had given new parts to Norris in the first instance.
“In both times, the conversation with Oscar were calm, rational, constructive conversations where it was easy for me to say, ‘I’m talking in the name of the team’.
“And it was easy for him to understand that. And even if as a driver, you always want to have the highest potential package.
“And at no point during the Singapore weekend, we had any reference to any annoyance, any comment like my car is a little slower but obviously the other one is the new part – not even indirect.
“This means that everyone listening, everyone looking at the person, gets something by example.
“That’s the fit with the culture,” he added.
“Drivers are definitely leaders in a Formula 1 team, they lead by example, and Oscar you can trust is going to do it even when he is a disadvantage.”
That positivity goes a long way. Much of every team’s workforce is factory based, and has little to do with the race team or the drivers. Their opinions are impacted by the media.
Piastri instils confidence. He is a calming influence. He is positive for McLaren, who clearly view him as a champion of the future.
Whether he is or not, time will tell, but his latest contract affords him arguably the best opportunity to develop as he needs to.