From Melbourne to the MTC: Oscar outlines his intentions ahead of rookie year
2022 was transformational for driver and team, but now Oscar's ready for a return to stability
Read time: 13.9 mins
Oscar has suddenly become very busy.
Outside of his reserve driver commitments and time spent travelling to races, Oscar’s schedule in 2022 was largely his own. He trained tirelessly, put in countless hours on the simulator and dedicated every waking second to earning an F1 drive, whilst his management worked on securing it.
Now that he’s gotten it, his life has changed completely, and outside of the eight hours he sleeps every night, his calendar scarcely contains a spare second, so much so that he’s yet to even finish unpacking in his new London-based home.
The first half of his morning has been taken up by external media duties, before lunch at a nearby Hilton Hotel and the afternoon with us. It’s a rare day when he isn’t on the simulator or pouring over the data at the factory, but certainly not a quiet one.
Despite still being surrounded by boxes at his home, Oscar’s enjoyed the little time he’s spent living in London. He’s yet to have the chance to venture too far, but he’s managed to briefly explore one of the large local parks in his area. It’s a bonus that his commute to work is under an hour, which proved to be just enough time for the occasion to sink in the first time he visited the MTC as a McLaren Formula 1 driver.
“The factory itself is a really cool building, but when you see the Boulevard and all of the history on display there, it’s special to know that I am a part of that history,” he says, recalling his first visit. “It was a cool feeling, and hopefully, I’ll be able to add a few trophies and cars of my own.”
As you walk along the Boulevard at the MTC, past esteemed machinery, and through the trophy-laden corridors, surrounded by iconic imagery on the walls, you cannot fail to feel the energy it provides. Following in the tyre tracks of such illustrious names undoubtedly appealed to Oscar.
“Seeing Lewis Hamilton’s car in the flesh brings back a few memories from when I started watching F1, but as I got older and learned more about the sport, I gained an understanding of the significance of the team’s history before I was born. Senna and The Prof’s [Alain Prost] cars were particularly cool to see.”
Some of the drivers he grew up watching are still competing today, and coming to terms with that fact is among the first hurdles for rookies like himself to overcome. Oscar first engaged with F1 during the mid-to-late noughties, when the likes of Fernando Alonso and Hamilton were in our ranks.
“That is a bit of an unusual one that I am still getting my head around,” he says. “I think once the helmet goes on, they’ll just become another driver on the grid that I am trying to beat, but, at least before the season starts, that is probably the most unique element of the mental side of things that I need to get used to.”
When Lando made his F1 debut at 18, Oscar was embarking on the first of three title wins in a row, with the Formula Renault Eurocup crown followed by the Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles. Our history of successfully blooding rookies, like his new teammate, was another key factor in his decision to join the team.
“Lewis and Lando are two prime examples of that,” he continued. “McLaren have a good history of bringing through rookies and turning them into world-class Formula 1 drivers, so that gave me confidence. That, and the feeling of being wanted by the team was a massive, massive draw. The passion, the energy and the desire to have me in the team was a very nice feeling.
“The other part was the trajectory of the team in the last five years or so, which has generally been towards the front. Last year was a bit more of a plateau, but in general, it has been an upward trend, and it’s been eye-opening to see the work going on behind the scenes to get us even further up the grid.”
Through his work on the simulator and in briefings, Oscar has been playing his role in that work since his arrival. So far, he’s taken it all in his stride and slipped snuggly into the team, appearing entirely comfortable and utterly unfazed.
But then little could seem as daunting as moving from one side of the planet to the other at 14. Relocating from Australia to England, he would have to join a boarding school in Hertford, make new friends, and even learn Japanese. He made more friends than he learned Japanese phrases, but he does believe he could still speak “a sentence or two.”
Getting to live out a dream you’ve worked towards for a decade pales in comparison to any of the above… Not that his schedule allows for much time to overthink.
“I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet,” he says, on the scale of the challenge that awaits him. “It has been nice in that sense to be so busy, but in general, I think my character is pretty stable, and it is a personality trait of mine to be pretty relaxed. I think it is a mixture of those two things.
“A third aspect is having something to focus on again. For the last 12 months, I was learning as much as possible from being a Reserve Driver, but there was never the certainty that I would get a race seat, but now I have a race seat that sharpens your focus. It’s been nice to have that from the start of this year.”
Whatever the emotion, it’s clear that Oscar’s instinct is to channel it positively, and that mentality will prove invaluable in F1, where nothing will ever go your way 100% of the time. That was true of his time in junior racing, in his year out, and will undoubtedly be true in F1.
His year away from racing was particularly difficult given the momentum he’d gained off the back of three titles in as many years, but he spent it positively, using his spare time at race weekends to soak up and adjust to the atmosphere of the F1 paddock and prepare himself for what is an intense environment.
This included increased media duties and fan engagement, which means that the transition shouldn’t be a culture shock.
“Getting a first taste of what the media schedule is like and what a weekend schedule is like in F1 was a good thing,” he says. “Going to my home grand prix in Melbourne as a Reserve Driver for the first time, as opposed to going as a racing driver, was probably a good experience because it means that I know roughly what I am getting myself into.
“Having the right mentality is massively important, and being able to focus on what's going to make you successful is key. McLaren are very focused on processes, which is how I work, so it’s been very encouraging to be on the same wavelength.”
The mindset is also reflective of his driving style. Throughout his junior career, he has often appeared unflappable – he spent several rounds in his F3 title-winning campaign with DRS-related issues and not only managed to win despite that, but he used it as a positive to grow his social media following.
He’s an advocate of controlling the controllable: if his approach is consistent, he believes the results will follow, and that has almost exclusively been the case in his career to date. In his past three racing seasons, he competed in 60 races and finished outside the points only eight times. He’s also scored 15 victories and 28 podiums. Those are serious numbers.
“Yeah, I think my driving style is probably pretty similar to my personality,” he agrees. “Smooth is quite a common comment that I get, and precise. I think it’s rare for me to have what you might call a scruffy lap. Obviously, everyone does now and again, but I think my laps are generally pretty clean, quite consistent and methodical.
“That has been a staple of my three championships. Even if we’re not quite quick enough, we’re able to be there or thereabouts, which I think is really important – even more so in a season as long as the F1 season.”
In terms of the sheer volume of racing alone, this will comfortably be his busiest year yet, with 23 races in 20 different countries. In a year where mistakes are almost inevitable as he adjusts to the heady step up, he’ll have the chance to move on quickly.
That type of schedule increases the importance of downtime and how it is spent, from surrounding himself with the right people and building meaningful relationships with them, to finding ways to shut off from racing and relax.
“It is super, super important, and that is something I have learned,” he says. “Now that I am in F1, it is important to have good people and management around you. Mark and Ann [Webber] have been well beyond their worth in organising everything and removing pressure from my shoulders.
“You’ve got a lot more people around you than in the junior categories, in terms of the people you work with in your team, so having good relationships with people becomes even more important.
“In terms of shutting off, I'm still pretty young, so I get away with the video game excuse. Every now and again, it's something to take your mind away from racing. But seeing my girlfriend and my friends, if the schedules align, is important.”
All of those relationships will be critical to the success of his fast-approaching and hotly anticipated debut season. Given his lack of racing in 2022, the past 12 months probably went by pretty slowly. The following 12 won’t be anything like that.
He doesn’t expect to build a lasting legacy in the next year alone, but if he can set the wheels in motion for successful seasons in years to come, along with a few memorable moments along the way, that would class as mission accomplished.
The Oscar Collection Get behind Oscar and the team with brand new driver essentials for the 2023 season
“I think if it's been a year that I've learned a lot and built the foundation for the rest of my career, then that would be a success,” he concludes. “If there are lessons that I can take from my debut season that I can carry through the rest of my career, or mistakes that I make that I don't make again for the rest of my career, then that'll be a success for me.
“Also, just enjoying it because it's a unique opportunity and experience to be an F1 driver, so just making sure I enjoy my first year of what I'm doing.”
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