Oscar Piastri says the reason for his strong qualifying performance in Saudi Arabia was 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 in seventh and Piastri assisting him in eighth.
Norris’ qualifying session was ruined by a hit with the wall in Q1, but Piastri made it through to Q3 and secured a solid ninth place.
That means eighth place on the last grid for his second F1 start, thanks to a penalty for Charles Leclerc.
“I think every time I’ve jumped in the car I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable,” said the Australian. “I don’t think I’ve done anything massively differently or changed anything compared to Bahrain.
“It just all just came together better and better and today there were no mistakes. It’s still incredibly tight. But this time I was at the right end of the pack. So I just felt like I put everything together a lot better today. And it made a big difference.”
Oscar Piastri, McLaren
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Piastri admitted he was keen to increase his speed on the tricky street circuit in Jeddah, although he knew this from his F2 days.
“I think everything went a little faster in the first laps of practice on Friday than I remembered from F2!” he said when asked by Motorsport.com whether he had set the pace himself.
“Of course it took some getting used to. I think more than anything, being more comfortable with the car was an advantage. I feel like being able to get comfortable with the car makes life easier no matter what route you drive.
“Even from Bahrain to here I feel like I’ve made a good step and it’s been all weekend and overnight. I think this morning was a good session and of course qualifying went well. So yes, just build on that.
“I think a bit of track knowledge might help but I have to say I did a lot more laps in Bahrain than here! So I don’t really think it was that, I think it’s just getting more and more comfortable with the car.”
When asked if the car’s one-lap pace is better than expected, he said: “I think our general pace seems a bit stronger. I don’t think we really expected a lap to be better than our race pace, if anything Friday was almost the opposite to a certain extent.
“So on Sunday we will see what we have. But yeah I think if we have a lot of grip when we take the gas out then the car feels a little bit better for everyone.
“But it was good for us. I think what we did overnight really helped a lot. While it wasn’t revolutionary, I think we were a lot more optimistic after P3 than we were at that point last night.
“So just those small margins really, really make a difference. And on Sunday it will definitely be a close race. Many other cars have different strengths than we do. So we’ll see how that plays out tomorrow.”
Piastri admitted the team can now be more optimistic about what could be achievable this year.
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “It’s just so tight. Even in Q1 the difference between being in the top 10, I think where I was, and getting eliminated was two tenths.
“So you make a little mistake or a couple of little mistakes and it looks like a complete disaster. And you put in a really good round and you look like a hero.
“So we really have to deal with these really small margins, which I think is doing very well. And of course we have some upgrades in the pipeline throughout the year that will help, but I’m sure everyone else will too.
“And just being able to pull a little bit more out of everywhere we can, especially with a field as tight as it is now, will make all the difference.”