Oscar Piastri: Meet the Hottest Star of ‘Formula One: Drive to Survive’

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

“We do our talking on the track,” quips Formula One driver Oscar Piastri to his teammate Lando Norris. It’s toward the end of his rookie season in motorsport’s most prestigious globe-trotting racing series. The comment, tucked away in the sixth season finale of Netflix’s wildly popular sports docuseries Formula One: Drive to Survive, provides a neat summary of Piastri’s personality and outlook on life: coolly, briefly observing situations with a wry, dry wit and steering clear of bullshit. At the same time, he maintains a constant awareness of the expectations placed on Formula One drivers, whose professional and personal dramas are the object of intense fan interest, speculation, and interpretation.

Drivers on other teams he’s too circumspect to name might squabble publicly, but that’s not the Piastri way. That kind of focus—on what matters, setting aside what doesn’t—has paid off over the years for the young phenomenon, who moved from his family home in Australia to boarding school in England so he could be closer to the heart of Formula One. A successful, solo continent-hopping career move at age 14? Piastri—who spoke with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed just before the debut of Drive to Survive’s sixth season this weekend—doesn’t brush away its significance. But he is philosophical about it, noting that while “those of us who are coming from outside of Europe often have a bit more to give up than the European drivers,” the experience made him think through “just how motivated you have to be before you make the decision [to pursue this career]. It forces you to grow up quite quickly.”

Piastri is the youngest driver on the Formula One grid—the first to have been born in the 21st century—and like all of his 19 colleagues across the sport’s 10 teams, he’s eager to push himself and his team’s eye-wateringly expensive high-performance race car to their speed and endurance limits. Piastri’s cool head on the race track has been essential to the success of his extraordinary first season as a Formula One driver, how he navigates the wild swings native to being an athlete in an elite, hyper-competitive sport, and what he hopes the 2024 racing season may hold.

Like any good reality series, Drive to Survive captures and shapes moments on- and off-track into gripping storylines. Each season of the show retrospectively tracks the events of the thrilling ups and often hilariously petty downs of the sport’s 10 teams and 20 drivers series across a season of races (formally known as Grand Prix) as they compete to win one or both of the championships at stake in Formula One. F1, As it’s more popularly known, holds two championships per season: one for the drivers, and another honoring the teams that design, build, and make improvements to the cars. The 2023 racing season posed an unusual problem for the show by being almost boring, thanks to the incredible performance of now three-time world champion driver Max Verstappen and his team, Red Bull. Verstappen won 19 of the season’s 22 races, and of the three remaining races, his teammate Sergio Pérez won two, leaving just one race to be won by a non-Red Bull driver, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

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For Drive to Survive to meet its goal of creating dramatic arcs and making an often opaque and bewilderingly technical sport engrossing to a larger audience, it needs juicy material: Real Housewives of Elite Racing Worldwide-level material. How can the show generate suspense and hook viewers—especially the coveted demographic of young women in the U.S.—when it’s so obvious from the beginning which driver and team will win both championships?

That’s where Piastri and Norris’s team, McLaren, came in. The drivers and their immediately identifiable papaya-colored car hit their stride eventually, but were never in a position to challenge the likes of Red Bull. Instead, this season of Drive to Survive leaned particularly hard into focusing on smaller stories further down the rankings, such as McLaren’s pitched battle with Aston Martin for fourth place and Ferrari’s with Mercedes for second. These might seem like small potatoes, but it’s not just about bragging rights; millions of dollars in winnings hinge on the end-of-season rankings, with about $9 million separating each of the tiers, which start with a $60 million purse for the lowest-ranked team.

Oscar Piastri stands holding his race driving helmet

Oscar Piastri of Australia and McLaren looks on in the FIA Garage after qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas on Nov. 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Covering smaller F1 stories in more depth also allows Drive to Survive to maintain its role as an on-ramp to future fans of this rarified sport, thanks in large part to how manageable it is to learn the names, faces, and personalities of just 20 drivers and their 10 teams. Watch a single season and you’ll feel right up to speed, pun fully intended.

This Rookie Is Not Like The Others

Piastri entered the 2023 season with high expectations thanks to his stellar prior performances winning championship titles in his rookie years in lower racing series like Formula Two and Formula Three. He’s justifiably proud of having delivered on that promise, driving to podium finishes in the Japan and Qatar Grands Prix and winning enough points in other races to swing an impressive ninth place finish overall among the 20-driver field. Those accomplishments stand out more boldly in fuller context; his two fellow rookies, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant, were replaced mid-season, and scraped a single point, respectively. Piastri is a pretty cool customer, but got animated talking about scoring his first points at his home race in Melbourne and the team’s home race in England, describing the latter as “an awesome weekend for the whole team.” McLaren managed a coveted double podium at the British Grand Prix, Lando Norris finishing in second ahead of Piastri’s third-place finish. Awesome, indeed.

Drivers and teams are only as good as their last race performance, so preparations for the 2024 racing season—beginning in Bahrain at the end of February—were already underway by the final Grand Prix of 2023, held in Abu Dhabi. Having shown his hand as a competitor to be reckoned with, Piastri is laser-focused on making improvements, aiming for better consistency. Even though he’s alone in the cockpit of the car, everything is a team effort, including “lots of discussion with the race and performance engineers who work with me directly to identify what I can do better, and having the data to back it all up.” Those relationships are crucial—“they have much more information than me, they’re much more experienced than me, and they’re engineers!”—and Piastri credits his strong science background with helping him communicate clearly about the ins and outs of “what the car is doing, what I like about it and what I don’t.” Piastri’s preparation and focus on “hitting the ground running at every race weekend” can only take a driver so far, though; anticipating the reveal of McLaren’s redesigned car for 2024, his keenest hope was for an update that will be “nice and quick” right away.

Oscar Piastri sits in his car as his crew works on it in a still from Formula 1: Drive to Survive
Drive to Survive

Oscar Piastri in Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

Dan Vojtech/Netflix

Keeping Cool Under Pressure

Even if the 2024 car is as speedy as Piastri hopes, he’s aware that every driver’s chances of losing are far better than their chances of winning. He’s sanguine about it, though, drawing wisdom from F1 legend Niki Lauda, who found losing more useful than winning, because of what it taught him for future races. Piastri knows failure is “inevitable in motorsport,” in part because “there are so many factors outside of your control,” including the widely varying race circuits, weather, and unforeseen mechanical issues. Loss is an opportunity to “learn how deep you can dig to find more performance. You find out about yourself, because it puts your emotions and motivation to the test.”

Piastri’s ability to keep his feelings in check is a not-so-secret weapon on the track. His preternaturally cool head is unusual in a sport where drivers vent, colorfully and at top volume, throughout races on their team radio. “I know there are drivers who need a bit of stirring up to get the most out of themselves, but being super calm is just how I work best,” he said. Piastri declined to identify specific techniques he uses other than to say that he works on them with his team.

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Whatever the specifics of his approach to his profession’s more challenging moments, one quality that both contributes to and reflects Piastri’s equanimity is his bone-dry sense of humor. It’s come in handy while navigating the wild swings of F1’s Silly Season, a period each summer often marked by team personnel shake-ups. Silly Season 2024 launched before the racing season even began, with Sir Lewis Hamilton’s announcement earlier this month that he would be ending his 11-year relationship with Mercedes to drive for Ferrari in 2025. Having won most of his seven Drivers’ Championships with Mercedes, Hamilton’s announcement came as a disorienting shock to F1 and its millions of fans worldwide. Piastri’s response to the news on X (formerly known as Twitter) later that morning was an instant classic: “Just been for a run. Did I miss anything?” Piastri is a Silly Season veteran himself, having been at the center of a contractual drama between Alpine, where he’d been a reserve driver, and McLaren, where he wanted to drive, in 2022. Still, he is “very sure [Hamilton] won’t need any of my advice.”

Even though—or partly because—Hamilton has one more full season to drive at Mercedes, the shakeup is sure to be a significant storyline in the anticipated seventh season of Drive to Survive. If any of its potential repercussions across teams other teams ever get too silly, though, other doors may open. The Drive to Survive team “filmed a bit of stuff with me away from the track, which would be nice to see.” Who knows what they might do with it? Piastri has a deadpan notion for how to put it to good use: “I’m sure they have plenty of footage that they can use in a spinoff series somewhere.”

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