Mark Webber, who looks after the interests of McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri, says the young Aussie’s year on the sidelines last season with Alpine was “a travesty” given his immense talent.
After winning successive titles in the FIA Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships in 2020 and in 2021, Piastri should have logically made his entry into F1 the following year.
But instead, as a member of Alpine’s Junior Academy the young hopeful was bound by the terms of his contract with the French outfit, and there was no race seat available at the Enstone squad for the then 21-year-old for 2022.
Piastri therefore endured a season on the sidelines as Alpine’s official reserve, the Aussie also enjoying a few private outings with the team as part of his preparations for 2023.
However, the absence of a water-tight deal with Alpine for the following year offered Webber an opportunity to negotiate an agreement with McLaren over the summer of 2022 as the former F1 driver was desperate to find his protégé a full time drive for 2023.
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A contract was quickly signed with team papaya, but Alpine contested its validity, claiming that it had Piastri locked in for 2023.
The dispute was eventually resolved in favour of McLaren by the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board. But Webber remembers the tense period that preceded the decision.
“It [signing with McLaren] was the only choice we had,” Webber told Viaplay.
“It wasn’t too comforting for us last year knowing where he could end up. I was extremely nervous and frustrated that he did not race last year.
“We see what we missed. To have a guy like that not racing was a travesty and was killing me inside.
“McLaren was brilliant, right from the top. The shareholders, all the way through to make sure they got him. Now they’ve got two phenomenal drivers.”
Indeed, after quietly adapting to F1 and to his new environment during the opening races of 2023, Piastri improved with each passing race, and now performs on a par with teammate Lando Norris.
In Qatar last weekend, Piastri won his first F1 race when he triumphed in Saturday’s sprint event. He then followed up that performance with a second-place finish in Sunday’s race behind race winner Max Verstappen but ahead of Norris who completed McLaren’s double podium result at Lusail.
“Oscar started from pole position in the sprint race,” Webber reflected. “It was a good qualifying, it wasn’t easy to put the lap together here. We saw a lot of people doing track limits and running wide. But he kept a cool head.
“In the sprint race afterwards, he had to handle restarts with different compounds around. I’m proud of him and the team.
“I think [his strengths] is a combination of his adaptability, he’s very versatile. We’ve seen already this year, as a rookie there’s been a lot of wet weekends and a lot of disruptions.
“You can see that Oscar was strong on street circuits, he was strong at Spa in the rain. He’s going well at hot circuits.
“We do have some work to do when it comes to race pace, but qualifying has been a good step forward.”
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