AMONGST THE POMP AND CEREMONY of Daniel Ricciardo’s career revival, Oscar Piastri has been flying relatively under-the-radar despite a recent strong run of form. While the focus is on Ricciardo’s long-awaited return, Piastri has quietly racked up another commendable finish towards the top of the grid, coming in at fifth at the Hungarian Grand Prix. But as the hit Netflix show Drive to Survive has shown us, there’s always drama in F1, and Piastri’s achievement hasn’t come without its share of controversy.
Starting in fourth position courtesy of his scintillating qualifying time, Piastri quickly surged up into second position in the opening laps and looked a genuine threat to break Max Verstappen’s six race win streak. Just when things were looking up, Piastri was undone by his own team. McLaren bosses decided to pit Piastri’s teammate, Lando Norris, first — despite Piastri being ahead of Norris. One of the many unspoken rules of Formula 1 racing is that the teammate in a higher position gets to pit first, ensuring they have the fresh tyres necessary to both defend their spot and make up ground. But that didn’t happen in Hungary.
Not to make the decision to let Norris pit first seem bigger than it is, but that was the moment that McLaren essentially decided Piastri was not their best chance at a high finish. As a result of having to wait to pit, Piastri lost ground and was overtaken by Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez, while Norris, with his crucial fresh tyres, was able to work his way back up the standings, ultimately finishing second.
Questions are now being asked about supposed preferential treatment in the McLaren team. Team boss Zak Brown defended the decision to let Norris pit first, “That was what we thought was the best strategy and really keying off what we thought Lewis (Hamilton) was going to do.” Andrea Stella, the principal of McLaren, reaffirmed that message, “To be honest, our approach to these situations is to think about team first. We think as a team, and then we deal with the internal situation.”
Piastri could very well have dug in his heels and thrown a tantrum like a child that’s convinced their parents prefer their siblings, but instead the 22-year-old took the high road and played down the controversy. “It wasn’t ideal to come out behind Lando but when you finish 30 seconds behind him, it clearly didn’t make much difference.”
What now for Oscar Piastri?
While Piastri and his fans will be disappointed that the phenom’s search for a podium finish will continue at least until the Belgian Grand Prix next week, there are plenty of positives to draw from his performance. Piastri has finished in the top five in two consecutive races and finally looks like he’s found consistency. The young gun himself believes his first Hungarian GP has been a learning experience. “I think there’s bigger things I need to focus on first… I need to put myself on a position where I can fight to stay with him so we’re looking at what I can do better next time.”
Did Daniel Ricciardo have a good race?
Now to the man who needs no introduction, Daniel Ricciardo was back in action in Hungary after watching the first half of the 2023 F1 season from the trackside. While he didn’t obliterate all competition, as some may have expected, the 34-year-old showed he still has some of the sparkle that led him to the sports apex.
Ricciardo finished 13th, the same position he started in — which might not sound all that impressive, but when you consider he was involved in a crash on the first lap, it’s not a bad result. Ricciardo also finished two spots ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda, which is an achievement he’ll want to make a habit of if he wants to prove he still has what it takes.
With his typical light-up-the-room smile, Ricciardo made light of what could have been a difficult day and was optimistic about the back half of the season. “The whole weekend has been good and to come back, I really feel all the things I’ve missed in the last twelve months, I can’t ask for more on the first weekend, and it gives me confidence,” he said.
When is the next F1 race?
The Formula 1 calendar continues its relentless march, the next race on the global tour is the Belgian Grand Prix on the iconic Spa-Francorchamps track. The Belgian GP will begin at 11pm AEST on July 30th. Qualifying takes place one day earlier.