Oscar Piastri’s set the bar very high in his rookie season. Will the young Australian improve or plateau when he gets behind the wheel of McLaren for his second Formula 1 season?
Just one rookie has ever claimed more points than Australian Oscar Piastri did in 2023; seven time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Now, of course, the F1 Piastri entered is vastly different to previous eras where races and points were fewer but credit must be delivered where credit is due.
In a car that only remembered how to drive at high speeds during the second half of the season, Piastri managed an impressive 97 points, with two podiums finishes his highlight. These efforts were enough for him to collect ninth in the Drivers Championship alongside widespread plaudits and adulation.
Few drivers in recent memory have entered F1 with as much fanfare and expectation as the Australia. McLaren and Alpine, who’d he driven for through much of his junior career, tussled for his contract, with the papaya team eventually winning a very ugly and very public battle.
After overcoming a difficult car and poor form, Piastri finished the season strong alongside teammate Lando Norris, constantly putting himself into the frame
But delivering on expectations garnered during junior driving and those accrued through impressing on the F1 circuit are vastly different. Piastri enters 2024 with a mountain of expectations, from himself, his team, Australia and the wider F1 community.
Can he overcome these factors and continue building into the driver everyone knows he can be; a World Champion?
Will Oscar Piastri improve or plateau in 2024?
Max Verstappen’s second F1 season saw him leap from 12th on 49 points in his rookie year to 5th on 204 points with one win. Lewis Hamilton was World Champion in his second Formula One campaign. Nico jumped from 17th in his rookie year to ninth in his second, Sebastian Vettel from 14th to eighth.
Of the five individuals to last win a Formula One World Championship only Jenson Button, winner in 2009, regressed from their rookie year to their second year.
The point is that most great drivers improved on their rookie year in their second. This extends beyond championship calibre drivers. Piastri’s current McLaren teammate Lando Norris improved in his second year, the same goes for fellow countryman Daniel Ricciardo.
Should all go to plan, Piastri is likely to follow these drivers’ lead and improve throughout his second Formula 1 campaign, especially if McLaren maintains their late-2023 form running into 2024, which has reportedly been their aim in the off-season.
Outside of Red Bull, particularly Max Verstappen, no team was quicker over the second half of 2023 than McLaren. Over 13 races from Silverstone to the season’s end, McLaren sat on the podium in seven races, including two appearances for Piastri.
During that window, both the Australian and teammate Lando Norris collected 78% of their total season points tally, meaning more than two-thirds of their season’s successes came in just 60% of the races.
McLaren evidently concocted a formula conducive to competitive race pace and podium finishes. In a racing world dominated by Max Verstappen, where wins are scarcer than water in the Sahara, the Woking-based side looked likeliest to challenge the flying Dutchman’s indomitable Red Bull rocket.
There is so much variance between Formula 1 seasons, as we’ve seen in recent years. Notably, Lewis Hamilton went from fighting for the 2021 Championship to not winning a single race in 2022.
For that reason, it’s very difficult to predict how machinery will operate in any given F1 season. Yet all the signs at McLaren appear positive ahead of 2024.
In unveiling the team’s livery for 2024, McLaren principal, Andrea Stella, explained the team enter 2024 ‘with [their] sights set on continuing our journey towards the front of the grid.’
“Last year allowed the team to set a strong foundation for the future through continued hard work, commitment, effort and talent. With our new infrastructure upgrades and people in place, we must continue to elevate our standards and incorporate high performance in everything we do,” he added.
Stella also explained the team’s vehicle development ahead of 2024 has followed a similar trajectory to their 2023 mid-season improvements, with the team likely to maintain some of the last season’s developments.
On top of these improvements, the team’s principal shared that McLaren is ‘already starting to work on the further developments that we hope to bring relatively soon in-season, and they also seem to be quite interesting.’
Even reigning World Champion, Max Verstappen, admitted McLaren ‘might be very strong next year.’
McLaren, and Piastri’s, 2024 potential is boosted by the arrival of Rob Marshall, part of the Red Bull design team during Sebastian Vettel’s four consecutive titles, and ex-Ferrari aerodynamic specialist, David Sanchez.
Moving away from the wider team structure and machinery, Piastri enters 2024 with 22 races under his belt and, crucially, a full season experiencing the F1 hot seat. Now, more than a year ago, or even midway through last season, he will know what works for him and what doesn’t, what car settings maximise his pace, what off-track factors he needs to get right to succeed, as well as a host of other factors critical to performance.
Last year, the Aussie admitted to ‘getting more and more comfortable with the car, knowing how I need to drive it to be quick, just getting more experience in the races.’ This will likely continue in 2024, and beyond.
In Lando Norris, he has a fantastic teammate talented enough to challenge for wins and titles. Iron sharpens iron and healthy inter-team competition, as well as shared knowledge between the pair, will be crucial in Piastri sustaining his positive upward trajectory.
However, this isn’t to say Piastri has no room for improvement. Former F1 driver, Ralf Schumacher, recently stated that while he believes McLaren could be in the title hunt during the 2024 season, he believes the young Australian to be a bit weak on race day, as opposed to qualifying where ‘he never makes a mistake.’
And yet, with a full year of F1 under his belt, 2024 is shaping nicely for Piastri and the McLaren F1 team. Only time will tell if he can improve on his immense rookie season, chances are it’ll be difficult as the teams around McLaren improve, but the conditions are primed for the Australian to cement himself as one of Formula 1’s most promising drivers.