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Oscar Piastri lights up F1 as 'special' 10-year first stuns fans

Not since the 2013 season has an F1 rookie managed to accomplish what Oscar Piastri has at the Belgian GP.

Oscar Piastri stands on the sprint race podium alongside winner Max Verstappen, with third-placed Pierre Gasly seen right.
Oscar Piastri turned in his best performance yet in his rookie F1 season, finishing second behind Max Verstappen in the Belgian GP sprint race. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

Australian F1 rookie Oscar Piastri has delivered the best result of his debut campaign to date, finishing second in the sprint race at the Belgian GP behind championship leader Max Verstappen. The 22-year-old became the first F1 rookie in 10 years to hold the lead after changing conditions prompted a flurry of early pitstops, but the pace of Verstappen's Red Bull proved undeniable following a safety car restart.

Piastri had already left the F1 world in amazement after he put his McLaren second on the grid in the wet-dry qualifying session for the sprint race, out-qualifying teammate Lando Norris for the second time this weekend in an impressive display. The sprint race began behind the safety car, but the drying track prompted a flurry of pitstops, and Piastri was first in and first out.

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As a result he inherited the lead from Verstappen, who pitted the next lap, and was able to hold off the two-time champion until the safety car was brought out following Fernando Alonso's spin into the gravel. With the field bunched up, Piastri's McLaren proved no match for the blistering Red Bull, but the Australian rookie held his nerve and earned praise throughout the F1 paddock for his efforts.

Having missed pole position in the earlier qualifying session by just 0.011 seconds, Piastri had already put the rest of the grid on notice - his finish behind Verstappen a sure statement of intent as McLaren continues to turn their season around after a difficult start to the season.

“Very, very happy. We tried our best,” Piastri said. “We boxed when the safety car came in, led a few laps. I tried my best but we were no match for Max.

"Nice to be up there in P2. I think, apart from Max, our pace was really strong, so full credit to the team again.

“The last three weekends we’ve had, it’s been pretty special, compared to where we have been, so I can’t thank them enough for the car. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do — clearly — to get right to the top, but it’s a lot nicer to be up there. To lead my first laps was a day I won’t forget.”

F1 rivals praise Oscar Piastri after Belgian GP sprint race showing

His performance prompted a warm tribute from McLaren principal Andrea Stella, who said: "We're very pleased for Oscar himself, seeing him lead a race, we are just very impressed with him.

"Being on this journey with Oscar, it makes it even more exciting because it was very clear right from the start the level of talent, the analytical behaviour he has, and at the same time always remaining very calm."

Both Verstappen and Red Bull boss Christian Horner were effusive in their praise for Piastri's work on the notoriously tricky Spa Francorchamps circuit. Verstappen said Piastri's consistency, which was key to his back to back championships in F3 and F2 before his eventual step up to F1, had been impressive.

Oscar Piastri speaks with Max Verstappen.
Oscar Piastri was the recipient of high praise from reigning F1 champion Max Verstappen after finishing P2 behind the Red Bull star in the Belgian GP sprint race. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

“So far Piastri has had a great debut season," Verstappen said. "On pure pace he’s for sure good, but what I think is the most important is how consistent he is. He doesn’t make many mistakes and that’s impressive in your first season”.

Horner said it was a 'very strong drive again' by Piastri, who will start from 5th in Sunday night's grand prix after again out-qualifying Norris. Verstappen claimed pole for the main race, but will start from 6th after taking a five-place penalty for a gearbox replacement.

The sprint race was also a happy hunting ground for fellow Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, who again impressed in his second race back for Alpha Tauri. Ricciardo finished 10th, improving after qualifying 11th, where he had again out-paced teammate Yuki Tsunoda.

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