Oscar Piastri was “frustrated” to not improve on his final Q3 run despite claiming his maiden Formula 1 front-row start in Japan.
Piastri is embarking on his debut outing at Suzuka this weekend but appeared quick throughout qualifying and managed to pip team-mate Lando Norris to second.
The Australian went one better than his previous best at Silverstone earlier this year, becoming the first rookie to secure a front-row starting berth in F1 since 2010.
However, he was unable to challenge Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who topped all three practice sessions before surging to pole position by a huge six-tenths-of-a-second.
Reflecting on his career-best qualifying performance, Piastri said: “Yeah very, very happy, I think yesterday we thought we could be in for a solid weekend then I think this morning we made some good changes and the car looked quick in FP3 and I was getting more used to the car too, so yeah, very, very happy to be on the front row.
“Of course the gap is a lot bigger than I’d prefer, but happy to be in second.”
Although he acknowledged McLaren lacked the pace to match Verstappen, Piastri concedes he was irritated to not better his opening effort in the final segment.
“Yeah there was a bit [more time in the car],” he noted.
“I think I was about two-tenths off after the first sector, but I wasn’t going to find six, so yeah in the end it didn’t make much difference, but of course when you’re up on your lap before you want to keep going that way, just a bit frustrated I didn’t manage to improve on the second lap but in the end it didn’t matter.”
While Norris was given McLaren’s latest upgrade package last time out in Singapore, Piastri’s MCL60 car was only equipped with the full extent of updates this weekend.
Evaluating the impact of the Woking squad’s new developments, Piastri believes McLaren’s car is still lacking in the same areas.
“I think the strengths are still the same as it’s always been – the fast corners, high-speed corners, where we can really just commit to the grip really, we still struggle in the same places I think, so the upgrades are the right direction in making the car quicker, but we still need some more steps evidently to be the quickest,” he explained.
“It honestly doesn’t feel much different to Singapore but the circuit is so different that it’s hard to tell.”
The high-speed thrill of Suzuka represents one of the toughest challenges of the year and Piastri admits he was still getting up to speed with the track during qualifying.
“Even through qualifying I was still trying to work on things, it’s natural for everyone, the grip comes up, I think overnight I was more happy this morning in FP3, a little bit closer, feeling a bit more comfortable,” he added.
“I think if I came back next year I’d probably be a bit more comfortable again. It takes a while, especially around here, I had quite a big moment through the first Degner yesterday, and it took me a few laps to get back up to the same speed.
“It definitely bites, but yeah, feel like it’s taken all [of] Friday and then most of today.”
Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren in qualifying parc ferme with team mate Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s race, the Japanese GP will mark the second time this season that two McLarens will be looming large in Verstappen’s mirrors at the start.
Norris was able to propel past the Red Bull driver off the line at Silverstone but eventually had to settle for coming home second behind the reigning World Champion.
When asked if he would work together with Norris to try and beat Verstappen on Sunday, Piastri replied: “Er… we’ll try, we tried our best at Silverstone, we’ll try and do the same thing, but obviously it’s going to be difficult.
“I think it’ll be a difficult race, very different to Silverstone in that regard, it could be a lot more open I think.”
Like many of the drivers, Piastri anticipates tyre degradation to play a deciding factor in Sunday’s 53-lap encounter.
“I think yesterday and the whole weekend the degradation has been a lot higher than say Silverstone, the tyre choices from everybody, clearly would say most people are expecting more than one pit stop, Max saved three sets of softs… he’s doing a four stop!
“It’s going to be a different race to Silverstone from that aspect and I think when you’ve got more deg, more pit stops, it just increases the margin for error, it tests how well you can manage the tyres as well, so it’s not just as simple as going as fast or flat out as the car will let you.”
Source: Read More