A first-race retirement put Oscar Piastri on the back foot in Azerbaijan but he recovered with two podium places to leave Baku solidly in second place in this year’s FIA Formula 2 championship.
Piastri had some torrid tussles with New Zealand Liam Lawson, particularly in the second of the sprint races, but said he enjoyed the encounter as he built to second spot in the F2 feature race that paid the best points for the three-race weekend.
“Liam and I have had quite a lot of battles in the last two years, and we’ve had contact probably half of those times and it’s always aggressive,” said Piastri.
“Racing Liam is always hard, you know he’s never going to give you any extra inches, but I think today from the outside looked pretty entertaining.”
Piastri’s real rival this year is Guanyu Zhou, who is a fellow member of the Alpine Academy and has tested a grand prix car alongside him twice, as he still leads the series points 78-83 over the young Aussie.
But Piastri said in Baku that he is building momentum in his rookie F2 year after taking last year’s FIA F3 crown and was happy to have closed the margin to just five points over the past two meetings in Azerbaijan and Monaco.
“I think we’ve just been getting stronger. I think Bahrain our race pace was very strong, we just struggled a bit in Quali, and then Monaco I had a very strong weekend,” he said.
“Then here I feel a victim of the reserve grid in Sprint Race 1 and it made my Saturday very hard. I was learning where to brake when you have five cars ahead of you with a slip stream and DRS.
“There are a lot of variables, and I was paying for that lack of experience, but I think our pace has been strong and it’s been another good weekend with things we can control.”
Piastri started from third in the Feature Race on Sunday, the spot where he had qualified on Friday with the Prema Powerteam, then raced fast and hard despite suffering a five-second penalty for an unsafe release from his compulsory tyre-change pitstop to follow Juri Vips to the flag.
“I think second place is a great result, I didn’t quite have the pace to get Juri today, but I think I can count my lucky stars today with no Safety Car after the penalty.
“It was my mistake on the pit exit, I was just a bit too keen to get away. The team decides when I leave, but I was too excited to get out of the pit box and went while the light was still red. It was the first time where I’ve had that sort of situation where I’ve had to wait for someone in the pitlane and I just wasn’t thinking about it. Normally the only reason the light wouldn’t turn green is if a wheel was still getting put on, but all four wheels were on and I was on the ground, so it was just a mistake on my part.”
The F2 title fight resumes at Silverstone in Britain, where Piastri recently tested the Alpine F1 car, and he believes he has momentum from Baku.
“I think the pace was strong, another solid weekend in terms of what we control. I’m happy with how it went and now we will enjoy the break before Silverstone.”