Oscar Piastri says the reason for his strong performance in qualifying in Saudi Arabia was simply to feel more comfortable in the McLaren MCL60 Formula 1 car.
McLaren looked good in Saturday’s FP3 session after overnight changes, with Lando Norris seventh and Piastri backing him up in eighth.
Norris’ qualifying session was marred by contact with the wall in Q1, but Piastri made it to Q3 and took a solid ninth.
This would result in eighth place on the final grid for his second F1 start, thanks to a penalty for Charles Leclerc.
“I think every time I get in the car I feel like I’m getting more comfortable,” the Australian said. “I think compared to Bahrain, I don’t think I’ve done anything significantly different or changed anything.
“Everything just went together better and better and there were no mistakes today. It’s still incredibly tight. But this time I was on the right end of the group. So I just felt like I put everything together a lot better today. And that made a big difference.”
Oscar Piastri, McLaren
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Piastri admitted he was wary of increasing his speed on the tricky Jeddah street circuit, even though he knew it from his F2 days.
“I think the first couple of laps in practice on Friday everything was going a little bit faster than I remember from F2!” he said when asked by Motorsport.com if he had paced himself.
“So that took a bit of getting used to, obviously. I think more than anything it was helpful to get more comfortable with the car. I feel like if you can feel comfortable with the car, then no matter what track you go to, it makes life easier.
“Even from Bahrain to here, I feel like I’ve made a good step, both this weekend and tonight. I think it was a good session this morning and obviously qualifying went well too. So yeah, I’m just building into it.
“I think a bit of track knowledge would probably help, but in saying that I’ve done a lot more laps of Bahrain than here! So I don’t really think it was that, I think it’s just getting more comfortable with the car.”
Asked if the car’s lap speed was better than expected, he said: “I think our overall pace looks a bit stronger. I don’t think we really expected a lap to be better than our race speed, if anything Friday was almost the opposite to some extent.
“So we’ll see what we have on Sunday. But yeah, I think when we have high grip, when we cut the fuel, I think for everybody the car feels a little bit better.
“But it was good for us. I think what we did at night really helped quite a bit. Even if it wasn’t groundbreaking, I think we were a lot more optimistic after P3 than we were at this point last night.
“So just those small margins again, really, really matter. And it will be a tight race on Sunday, I’m sure. Many other cars have different advantages over us. So we’ll see how that plays out tomorrow.”
Piastri admitted that the team can now be more optimistic about what can be achieved this year.
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “It’s just so hard. Even in Q1, I think the difference between being in the top 10, I think where I was, and being out was like two tenths.
“So you make a small mistake or a few small mistakes and it looks like a total disaster. And you do a really good lap and look like a hero.
“So we really have to deal with these really tight margins, which I think we do very well. And obviously we have some upgrades in the pipeline throughout the year that will help, but I’m sure everyone else will as well.
“And just being able to run a little bit more wherever we can, especially with the field as tight as it is right now, is going to make the difference.”