Oscar Piastri brushed off a dispiriting qualifying session to be one of the stars along The Strip in Las Vegas, the Australian finishing 10th and earning an extra point for setting the fastest lap of the race after qualifying second-last.
Piastri – along with McLaren teammate Lando Norris – were the early big-name casualties of Friday night qualifying in Vegas, McLaren’s decision to only use one set of new tyres in Q1 for each driver backfiring badly when they were both eliminated. Norris qualified just 16th while Piastri was 19th, his worst starting position since round five in Miami.
At a brand-new Vegas track where tyre warm-up looked to be elusive and with passing prospects unknown, Piastri was a man possessed on Saturday night, picking his way through the first-corner chaos caused by a spinning Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) to end lap one in 13th place, and storming to seventh before a clash with Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) gave him a left-front puncture and necessitated a lap 16 pit stop.
“That was definitely eventful, and pretty entertaining to be honest,” Piastri said.
“Carnage at Turn 1, which I thought would be the case … starting at the back wasn’t as bad as it potentially looked. And then the pace was really good, we switched on the tyres well compared to a lot of others which was cool.”
The timing of the puncture and pit stop pumped the brakes on Piastri’s progress. The team fitted a second set of hard tyres for his second stint of the race, which committed Piastri to a two-stop strategy given drivers are required to run two different compounds of tyres throughout the race.
“It was too early to try to do a one-stop onto the medium, so we used the hard and just prayed for a (late) safety car, which never came,” he said.
“We were kind of screwed from that point anyway … it felt like not a lot went our way this weekend, but I guess that’s Vegas for you.”
The Australian ran as high as fourth place after a lap 26 safety car to remove debris on the track, and with no subsequent safety car coming to allow for a cheap stop with the field neutralised, Piastri finally pitted for medium tyres with eight laps left, falling to 11th.
With fresh rubber at his disposal, Piastri pushed the pace, hunting down and passing Alpine’s Pierre Gasly for 10th and the final point on offer with three laps left. He set the fastest lap of the race on lap 47 (1min 35.490secs) to bag a bonus world championship point, a small reward for a strong race where he was surprised by McLaren’s speed.
“It was a shame we had to stop again, we were looking really good … I think we could have gone to the end easily, and that would have been P4,” he said.
“(Qualifying) was not really representative of our pace, we just got caught out with using one set of tyres. I don’t think we had the pace to challenge right at the front, but I think we could have got into the top 10 (on the grid).
“Yesterday makes today look 1000 times better, but in saying that, today was a bit of a surprise with the pace we managed to have. Even if things didn’t go our way, we had really good pace. Compared to yesterday, that was a good change. We were even better than we thought.”
Oscar's Las Vegas Grand Prix by the numbers
- Qualified: 19th (started 18th after Stroll/Aston Martin penalty)
- Race: 10th
- Fastest lap: 1min 35.490secs (1st), lap 47
- Points this event: 2
- Points this season: 89 (9th in world championship)