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‘That Colored Oscar’s Race’: McLaren Left Exposed for Sacrificing Piastri to Favor Lando Norris in Japan

Published 09/27/2023, 1:15 AM EDT

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Last year, Oscar Piastri was making all the headlines in F1 about being the hottest property. McLaren certainly was happy to win him over from Alpine. 12 months later, things haven’t changed as Piastri has vindicated McLaren’s trust to go all out for him. Though can the Woking team say the same from the other side of the table? The Japanese GP did give a reality check for the Australian driver about how Lando Norris is perhaps still the #1 driver on the team.

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The Suzuka weekend began exceptionally well for Oscar Piastri as he signed up for a 3-year deal for McLaren. Piastri is now staying at the Papaya outfit until the end of 2026 at least! However, the Grand Prix could have been slightly better even though he got his maiden F1 podium at the old-school Japanese track.

Did McLaren have justified reasons to sacrifice Oscar Piastri to favor Lando Norris at Suzuka?


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McLaren had a stellar qualifying to put both Lando Norris & Oscar Piastri right up at the front of the field. Although, the key highlight was that Piastri had out-qualified Norris to start on the front row. Usually, F1 teams would give strategic preference to the driver starting higher. However, as the race went on, Oscar got the shorter straw as Norris forced the team’s hand to favor him.

F1 veteran & journalist Peter Windsor in his Japanese GP analysis on YouTube cited the potential reasons behind McLaren giving Norris the upper hand in Japan. He said, “So Lando, I mean the significant thing there I guess about the race structure was that Lando was then in front of Oscar Piastri & that kind of colored it in terms of Oscar’s race.”


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“They brought him in earlier I think maybe just to juggle things around. Maybe to keep the two apart, because they were very closely matched & Oscar had out-qualified Lando. And above all, McLaren needed to get both cars through into P2 P3 & maybe a win if Max had a problem.” One would be doing wishful thinking if they were hoping for some issue to occur to Max Verstappen & his RB19. Though, the point of Lando & Oscar being closely matched doesn’t make total sense as per the data.

Lando Norris finished the race 19.7 seconds behind Verstappen, which shows McLaren’s deficit to Red Bull. However, Piastri finished the race 36.4 seconds behind Norris. The British driver pulled off a 17-second gap after he passed the Aussie. This certainly shows how much faster Lando was in race trim. Oscar has showcased excellent one-lap pace this season. But in terms of race pace, Norris seems to be a notch above the man from Melbourne.

Therefore, it makes sense why McLaren chose to swap Oscar & Lando to maximize their advantage ahead of the rest of the field. Had something happened to Verstappen’s car, things could have blown wide open for an unexpected McLaren 1-2. Regardless, for the time being, Piastri would be content with his first F1 podium above anything else, hoping to get more.

Piastri – The Aussie lion has tasted blood to come for more?


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Just a few races back, Oscar Piastri got the chance to lead the Belgian GP sprint. While he could not hold off a charging Verstappen, it was a new feat for him. The Sprint P2 was definitely an encouraging sign that his missed podium from Silverstone will come at some point this year. Now that he has got that elusive maiden podium, can he keep this hot streak of form?

Piastri knows that McLaren is going to be in the mix for podiums regularly now. The crucial thing is he needs to tackle the speed & consistency of Lando Norris. The Aussie is no stranger to leading races, getting podiums & wins. His stellar junior categories record speaks for his winning prowess. The concern will be whether he can be consistent enough & develop his pace to match & edge out Norris or not.


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WATCH THIS STORY | Is Oscar Piastri Already Justifying His Talent By Performing Better Than Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren?

With a 3-year deal in place, Piastri seems set to be one of the chief architects of any potential championship glory for McLaren. What do you think about Oscar Piastri? Can he be the next big thing in F1?

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Written by:

Aishwary Gaonkar


One take at a time

Aishwary Gaonkar is an F1 Author & Editor at EssentiallySports who has completed his postgrad & has set out to venture into the world of Sports Journalism. He is an ardent fan of F1 and has been following the most prestigious form of motor racing for over a decade now. Initially, it was the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull that made him fall in love with this thrilling sport.
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Edited by:

Akash Pandhare