Four young Australians are winding up for a big swing through the tail end of the FIA Formula 3 championship in Europe.
Alex Peroni is aiming for more podium places, while Jack Doohan and Calan Williams are looking to salvage something from disappointing campaigns in the midfield.
But none of three has as much at stake as Oscar Piastri, a two-time F3 race winner in his rookie year who is only one point behind in the race for the high-profile title.
Piastri has devoted his life to racing in Formula One since he was 15, even moving to a boarding school in Britain, and has been identified by Mark Webber and Renault as a potential grand prix star.
“Obviously, going into boarding school was a bit of a shock. Maybe not a shock, but not what I was used to. But I actually found it very positive away from the track. It gave me something to focus on,” Piastri tells Race News.
He has only had 94 races in cars, despite wins and titles in karting, but has compiled an impressive record of 15 wins, 11 pole positions, 34 podiums and 15 fastest laps.
He started his 2020 campaign brilliantly, winning the first F3 race and leading the points chase until recently despite mechanical troubles including a mysterious electrical problem and a faulty drag reduction system. When he and Peroni stood on the podium together in Barcelona, he was clearly back on track.
“I set myself pretty high standards. I’m here trying to win. And Renault and everyone around me wants me to win,” Piastri says.
“I wasn’t really expecting to win the first race, to be honest. I expected to be up at the front, but I was hoping for a win at some time.
“I wanted to be at the front, I wanted to win this year. So I wouldn’t say I’m ahead of where I need to be.”
He knows there will be big pressure at Spa in Belgium and then the Italian races at Monza and Mugello, but is not worried.
“I’m looking forward to this,” he says.
“We’ve got three weekends in a row. So I can’t really get caught up on results so far, I’ve got to focus on what’s ahead.”
Piastri is running ahead of expectations in F3, where most drivers take one year to learn the tracks and cars before challenging for the title in the second year. He knows he is ahead of schedule, but is already looking at a Formula 2 slot in 2021.
“If I can have a really good result this year and move up to F2 that would be ideal.”
But he’s not feeling any particular pressure.
“It mostly comes from me. I set the standard for myself,” he says.
“You’ve got to be doing it for yourself, more than anyone else.”
Heading to Spa in Belgium, one of the fastest tracks on the F3 trail, he is pumped.
“It’s been my favourite of the last few years, since I drove on it for the first time. It’s historical, and it’s got the Eau Rouge corner. I just like the layout, which is pretty good for racing with some big, fast corners.
“Any racing driver, especially in a high-aero car, finds the faster corners are the more exciting ones. When it goes wrong it goes wrong in a bigger way, but when it goes right you’re never going to get that feeling in any other car.”
Piastri is fighting his American team mate Logan Sargeant for the F3 title, with New Zealander Liam Lawson an outside chance, and knows a potential key to the crown is quicker qualifying laps. That’s his target at Spa, but he also knows the importance of consistency over two races, with the second including an inverted Top 10 grid that can easily shuffle the deck.
“I would generally say I’m pretty calculated, weighting up the risk versus reward. And being consistent in all aspects. I’d say I’m not so much of the Daniel Ricciardo type, I wouldn’t really classify myself as the ‘Just send it’ type, but I think my race-craft is pretty good.”