In an alternate universe somewhere, Oscar Piastri is getting his practice in ahead of the IFMAR World Championship for remote control cars. In this universe, the young Australian is still racing, but he’s inside of the car, and it’s much bigger.
Oscar Piastri’s route to racing was originally a little different to most. Ultimately, he ended up following a pretty conventional path, which has included various karting championships, as well as two single-seater titles - in Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula 3. But initially, our reigning Champion began by racing on a much smaller scale, in remote control cars, not just for fun, but competitively.
He won the second class of a national championship at the age of nine and admits that he could well have followed that as a career path, had he not discovered karting.
“There is no age limit or age groups,” Piastri explained. “There is basically the top class and then the second class. I won the second class when I was nine, which was pretty cool. That was the highlight of my RC career, but I definitely raced them competitively - it wasn’t just around the backyard. I think when I won the national championship, the next youngest competitor was 17 – it’s a very broad range of ages.
“Me and my dad were talking about it (as a potential career) and we did think about doing it. But, trying to travel the world at the age of nine or ten, even with my dad, there would have been a lot of risks and uncertainties.”
Ironically, he still opted for a similar career path.
“Someone we met through RC had a daughter with a go-kart and I had a go on that,” he recalled. “Pretty sure I spun on my out-lap when I hit the brakes, but I loved it and within a week I had my own.
“Having raced remote control cars, I kind of had a rough idea on racing lines and how the basic principles of driving worked, so I picked it up pretty quickly. If I wasn’t racing cars, then RC cars could have been a career instead.”
The move to karting came in 2011 at the age of 10, but it took another three years for him to truly get serious. From there, things moved fairly quickly. He made his single-seater debut in 2016 and finished as British Formula 4 vice champion a year later.
It is quite cool that Mark is now my manager and that Daniel is racing for the same team that I am a part of. It’s funny how things work out in the world.
Skip ahead to 2020 and he is armed with Australian racing legend Mark Webber as his manager and aligned with the same team as another of his Aussie heroes: Daniel Ricciardo, in the Renault Driver Academy.
“It is quite cool that Mark is now my manager and that Daniel is racing for the same team that I am a part of,” he continued. “It’s funny how things work out in the world.
“My trainer - who I’ve had since the end of 2016 - was Mark's trainer when he was at Red Bull and in WEC, so we always had that mutual contact, we just never explored it.
“We realised that we were getting a lot closer to the top of the ladder during my Formula Renault season, but felt that we needed some help. At that point, it was literally just me and my Dad, so we thought that it would be a good idea to have Mark on our side. We approached him and he was very keen to work with me – it’s been a very good relationship so far.
“Over race weekends, we speak pretty much every day, if not over the phone then over text. When I am not racing, we still speak every now and again, especially now that we are looking at the plans for next year.”
Signing for the Renault Academy came as a result of winning Formula Renault. The contract was put on the table and he had no hesitation in signing it.
“Regardless of whether I won the Championship last year or not, we would have tried to get into Renault - it’s a privilege to be a part of the academy, it’s the best out there.”
Many have stepped up to the third tier as champions, only to be swallowed up by a stronger class of racing. The overall talent of the grid becomes a lot stronger, the competition much fiercer.
In Formula Renault, Piastri took seven wins and a further four podiums from just 19 races. In F3, that type of domination is nye on impossible, especially as a rookie driver.
The trick is to be up there more often than not. Take less significance in winning, and more in consistency. Balance the risk versus the reward. Those are all traits which Piastri has shown in abundance since his promotion. He took two wins and four podiums, but only finished outside of the points on three occasions – and two of those were due to retirements.
Joining 2019 Champions PREMA, as a championship winner himself, the pressure was heaped upon him. Piastri was pretty much instantly labelled as a favourite for the title, despite being a rookie.
Piastri continued: “I won the first race of the season and that helped to reassure me that I could fight for the championship, though it did mean that the rookie status of having slightly lower expectations was gone straight away, if it was ever there.
I won the first race of the season and that helped to reassure me that I could fight for the championship.
“I don’t think I expected it to go quite this well. I was hoping to be fighting at the front and I knew that with PREMA, I could definitely challenge for podium positions and certainly the top five, but I wasn’t really expecting to be leading the Championship. I wasn’t really expecting to be winning the first race on my debut either.
“In the car I would like to think that my race craft has been quite strong. I think at the beginning of the year, I probably struggled a little bit with that, in terms of being confident on the first lap. That was mainly down to the tyres and getting them into temperature. There was also the fact that none of us had raced for six months or so and I think it took me a few rounds to get back into the racing rhythm.”
There’s an air of confidence about Piastri, but certainly not a cockiness, despite all that has happened for him this year. The last 12 months have been the biggest of his career to date, but he hasn’t let it go to his head. Not joining Renault, not his relationship with Webber, and not his Championship win.
Yet, he’s on the map like never before. His profile has also been boosted significantly by his increased presence on social media, in particular Twitter, where he has documented his love affair with DRS.
His Twitter following sat at just 795 in January 2020. An F3 Championship and several DRS tweets later, it’s now on 11.6k. In terms of the ‘DRS saga,’ it speaks a lot for Piastri’s personality that he can turn a negative into a positive.
The Australian comes across as a casual and relaxed character, not easily fazed. At just 19-years-old he already seems well aware that prolonging any anger towards these issues would be wasted energy.
I think for my own sanity, it was a good way to get over it.
“It’s been cool to see that people have actually enjoyed those tweets,” he said. “I’ve never really said that much on social media before, but I put out a tweet about being locked in a hotel room without any food, and then my DRS failed the next day and it started the whole ‘DRS saga.’
“Obviously, I would rather not be able to tell these stories, even if they are very good for my social media, but I think that if you dwell on that kind of thing and look at it negatively, then it is only going to affect you negatively.
“If you can find the positives, then you can use it to build your social media reputation and that in turns shows people that you can move on. I think for my own sanity, it was a good way to get over it as well."
Piastri is currently enjoying a well-deserved break, having completed the nine-round season in just 11 weeks across the summer. Negotiations for his 2021 drive are already underway, with the Renault junior aiming to make the step up to F2.
“I would like to think that I could get a top seat for next year,” he explained. “I’m sure there are others from the top of F3 who will be doing the same, but I think that I’m expecting things to be committed to reasonably easily.”