Piastri has great Norris/Leclerc traits with a key difference

Piastri has great Norris/Leclerc traits with a key difference

There is a big difference between a Formula 1 driver who veers off course and one who can be critical of himself and take some responsibility even in the most unfortunate circumstances.

On the current grid, two drivers stand out for their harsh reflection of their shortcomings or mistakes, which extends to outright self-flagellation – Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris.

Unsurprisingly, their passionate self-criticisms were embedded in the team’s heated radio messages. We saw an example over the weekend at the Brazilian Grand Prix – Norris wondered why he “failed in qualifying” (funnily enough just seconds before finding out he had taken pole position in the sprint).

He and Leclerc spared no mercy at times, whether in the car or even in front of the media. They can perform harsh and unforgiving dissections on their performance. They become better racing drivers because they have this trait.

It is, for the most part, a much better quality than the automatic “I’m certainly not responsible for anything” which is the default mode for some drivers more than others. Although there is something to be said for an aggressive mental approach if it facilitates aggressive driving on offense or defence, which can be well rewarded.

Somewhere between the two sentimental extremes, though much closer to the self-critical end, is Oscar Piastri. The Initiate avoids being overly expressive (some might say performative), a trait that, although generally healthy, can add more stress and attention than would be ideal.

In his first season in Formula 1, his calm and analytical thinking was a prominent part of his toolkit.

This was evident at Interlagos, when he was hit from behind at the first turn of the Brazilian Grand Prix in a crash that ultimately ruined his entire race. The only person who thought he bore in any way responsible for what happened was Piastri himself.

Naturally, Piastri did not believe he was the one who fired the gun, but he noted that he should not have left himself vulnerable to it in the first place. If he had done better in qualifying, he would not have been in a position to take a hit from the errant Haas driver.

“Yes, there was bad luck but at the same time I think the saying ‘You make your own luck’ is very true,” he said.

“From myself and from the team, on Friday we didn’t execute as we should have. In some ways, that put me 10th on the grid and left me more at risk of these things happening.

“If I had started where Lando started, or at the front, I wouldn’t have had this accident.

“You should try to put yourself in the best possible position, there is no point in blaming bad luck and not thinking of things you can improve.”

It’s easier to be chivalrous and ignore things after something that’s blatantly not your fault. However, Piastri could easily have ended up on the defensive this weekend.

He was not at the level of his teammate Norris in terms of speed, and his performance in qualifying was faltering and he suffered a little in the race after making a mistake on the first lap.

And while Piastri had a frustrating round of the Grand Prix (having managed to re-join with a badly damaged car due to a red flag after the crash that troubled him), Norris capped off a fantastic weekend with a fine second place.

There is a driver or two who can easily fall into the trap of bemoaning their misfortune and pining for what was supposed to be possible for them if things went their way.

However, another way is to take some action within a negative scenario. In this case, Piastri limited his contribution to Friday’s poor qualifier.

He could have easily blamed the team’s poor timing on the one-lap one everyone had at the start of Q3 when the weather was turning, or on the significant change in wind direction and gusts as he approached Juncao that resulted in a spin.

Norris was also negatively affected by the circumstances, but he still handled it better.

“It was looking good until the last two turns where things went very wrong,” Piastri said.

“There are definitely some lessons I have to learn this weekend for myself in particular and for the team. But it is very difficult here to put everything together.

“For the first time, I’m very happy with the pace it was but unfortunately the execution wasn’t perfect.”

Piastri felt that he was not driving cleanly during most of the weekend during his first trip to Interlagos, especially during one lap.

He said “I couldn’t finish the lap” and suspected he might have been “trying a bit too hard”, which was exacerbated by the weekend’s limited running given he had never been to this circuit before.

McLaren also noted that the Sprint was Piastri’s first real long race, so it was a bit tougher than Norris had endured, but then the lessons he learned from that could not be used to full effect in the Grand Prix due to the early setback. The pace seemed worse than it should have been because he continued with a damaged car.

Instead of licking his wounds, Piastri also saw some positives. He felt there were racing lessons, race management and tires all weekend long.

“I got 70 extra laps that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” Piastri said of the pointless Grand Prix.

“I learned a lot in general but also when I come back next year.

“I had some clear things I wanted to try to improve, I tried it a lot, some things work, some things don’t.

“But it’s very rare that you get an opportunity like this to experience things like this.

“Of course, I would prefer not to have the opportunity in the first place, but when it does come, you should take advantage of it given our lack of testing.”

Focusing on what he can do better next time and being able to put it into practice is what has defined Piastri’s rookie season so far.

It will be interesting to see how this trait develops as Piastri deals with higher risks and loses the safety net of being a beginner, a state that buys you time to make mistakes and learn from them.

But since this approach is ingrained in his nature, it seems unlikely that he will start pointing the finger elsewhere the longer he stays in Formula 1.

His behavior seems unlikely to match the intense outburst of frustration experienced by Norris or Leclerc, so he may still share a great trait with them, and may even have the potential added benefit of stripping almost all emotion out of who he is.

That could serve Piastri well in his never-ending quest for self-improvement that can be the difference between good Formula 1 drivers and great ones.

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