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Australia has had it good in the last two decades with Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo winning grands prix against the world’s best. Now a 19-year-old from Melbourne is on the verge of joining this exclusive club.
Piastri was introduced as a member of the new Alpine Academy this week, part of the continued rebranding of all of Renault’s motor racing activities under the Alpine brand, which will see him get support for the car maker throughout the year.
Renault is making a major push to turn Alpine into a globally-recognised performance brand, to rival the likes of Mercedes-AMG and BMW M, albeit with a new range of electric vehicles including a replacement for the A110 and a hot hatch and SUV.
Alpine isn’t the only important backer Piastri has either. He’s represented by Webber’s management company - JAM Sports Management - and the former driver was a notable attendee at several races last year to help him navigate the challenges of cut-throat European racing.
Not that Piastri needs Webber to be by his side all the time, he’s determined to stand on his own two feet.
“I made it clear to the people from JAM that I don’t need someone holding my hand and carrying my helmet all the time,” he said.
If all goes to plan in the next two seasons Piastri could find himself a key cog in Alpine’s international marketing plans as the brand’s F1 ace. But first comes his move F2, which he’s stepping up to after winning the Formula 3 championship in 2020 and the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019.
Alpine’s expectations for Piastri are low for 2021, given he will be a rookie in F2 and be racing against drivers with more experience in the category; including fellow Alpine Academy members Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard.
Piastri will stay with the same team he raced for in F3, Prema Racing, which is the same outfit that claimed the ‘20 F2 championship with F1-graduate Mick Schumacher; so the young Aussie knows he’ll have a competitive car underneath him. Which is why his expectations exceed even Alpine’s hopes for him. The company would be happy for him to learn the ropes and fight for race wins this season before taking a title run in 2022, but Piastri is aiming to accelerate that.
“I’m trying to get to F1 so if anything my expectations of myself are going to be higher than what Alpine have for me,” Piastri said.
“It’s an important year. I’ve got the momentum off the back of two championships in a row. If I can add a third that would be good.”
Piastri has already got a taste of F1, testing the Renault RS.18 at Bahrain late last year as a reward for winning the F3 title. While he concedes there’s still things he needs to learn, his competitive spirit and desire to make it to the pinnacle of the sport is clear.
“I feel pretty ready,” he told CarsGuide “I’ve experienced an F1 car now, the test in Bahrain last year was very positive. Obviously there were a fair few areas to improve on but the feedback I’ve had has been very positive. I don’t feel I’d be ready to jump in an F1 car tomorrow, but if asked I’d say ‘yes’. I think I’ve still got a bit of learning to do but F2 is on the ladder to F1 for a reason.”
Alpine’s two-year plan for him in F2 does dovetail nicely with the two-year contract former world champion Fernando Alonso has with the team. The Spaniard will be 41 years old by the end of his contract, which is beyond the typical age of an F1 driver, so Alpine will likely be looking to promote one of its Academy drivers to F1 for the 2023 season.
It’s a situation Piastri is all-too-aware of.
“We all know that with F1 it’s not just skill, timing is a massive part of it as well,” he said. “So obviously there are a few dominos to fall into place but all I want to do is do as well as I can on the track and integrate myself into the Alpine F1 team off the track and presenting myself in the best light possible.”
Asked specifically about his chances of replacing Alonso, a two-time champion, Piastri is hoping to make it a simple choice for Alpine.
“Yes, I think that timing could line-up very well, but I also, in saying that, I have two other guys in the Alpine Academy drivers in F2 with me,” he said. “So I can’t rely on that to simply get me into F1. I’m expecting Zhou and Christian to be strong in F2 this year. I believe if you’re extremely successful on the track you can make your own timing, that’s the mentality I’m taking. If that gives Alpine and myself a headache then that’s a nice headache to have.”