Oscar Piastri's breakthrough third-place finish at the Japanese Grand Prix has F1 fans and pundits declaring McLaren were right to axe Daniel Ricciardo at the end of last season. Piastri became the first Australian driver to finish on the podium in an F1 race since 2021 - and the first rookie since 2017 - with a superb third-place finish behind Max Verstappen and Lando Norris on Sunday.
After qualifying second-fastest behind Verstappen, the 22-year-old Piastri drove a brilliant race on Sunday to become the first rookie since Lance Stroll to finish in the top three. Piastri also became the first Aussie since Ricciardo won at Monza two years ago, finishing 17 seconds behind teammate Norris, who was a further 19.4 second adrift of Verstappen.
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"It feels pretty special definitely," Piastri said. "I will remember it for a very, very long time. There are not many people who get this opportunity in their whole life and I've managed to have it in my first season."
Piastri was brought in by McLaren when Ricciardo was brutally dumped after an underwhelming two years at the team. Piastri made a scratchy start to life at McLaren, leaving many wondering whether they'd made a mistake in getting rid of Ricciardo.
But Sunday's result shows it certainly was the right move - even if it comes as a brutal truth bomb for Ricciardo. The former Red Bull, Renault and McLaren driver is currently out with a broken hand and missed the Japanese GP.
Piastri also became just the sixth Australian in history to make a podium after his manager Mark Webber (42 times), Ricciardo (36), Jack Brabham (31), Alan Jones (24) and Tim Schenken (1). "For now I'll enjoy the trophy," he said. "I've been drowned by Lando in champagne - which is a nice problem to have."
But the 22-year-old was quick to declare to reporters: "There's still a lot to learn and try and improve on. There are definitely a few things that, had I had this race again, I would've done a bit differently, but that's all part of learning. It's exciting to know we can finish on the podium even if I feel like there's more to come."
The Melbourne-born driver conceded he could have managed his tyres better, which he accepted would have to come with more experience. "I just wasn't quick enough at certain points of the race," he said. "These races (on high-degradation tracks) are probably the biggest thing I need to try and work on at the moment.
"It's still quite fresh for me, obviously. In all the junior racing before this there are no races like this. So the only way you can learn from it is by just doing the races."
McLaren got a lot of heat for dropping Ricciardo but you’ve gotta say they made the right decision. Piastri has been the best rookie in a number of years 👏 #JapaneseGP
— Calum (@Calum_F1) September 24, 2023
— Emily Minney (@minneyemily) September 24, 2023
McLaren made the right decision by choosing Piastri over Ricciardo.
— Shaira Estrella (@shairahollytics) September 24, 2023
McLaren emerge as major contenders to Verstappen and Red Bull
McLaren's first double podium of the season has cemented their growing status as Red Bull's closest challengers on the track. Piastri had been in second place for much of the race, before team orders saw him relent and let Norris pass.
"We're not close to Max but we are not miles away either," said Norris. "So I'm very happy."
Verstappen's win saw Red Bull clinch the Constructors' Championship and moved him one step closer to a third-consecutive drivers' championship. The 25-year-old missed the podium in Singapore last week, but held on for his 13th win of the season in Singapore.
Verstappen increased his lead over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez in the drivers' championships to 177 points. He has the chance to wrap up his third-consecutive title at next month's Qatar Grand Prix.
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