When future world champion Alan Jones won his first Formula One Grand Prix, in Austria in 1977, organisers were famously caught out during the podium ceremony.
The Australian wasn’t expected to feature prominently in that race, and organisers didn’t have the national anthem ready to play after his victory. Instead, according to Jones, “a drunk played Happy Birthday on a trumpet.”
Fast forward 43 years, and there was no mistake this time around, with the Australian national anthem ringing out around the track in the hills of Spielberg, after rising star Oscar Piastri was victorious on his F3 debut on Saturday.
With Tasmania’s Alex Peroni finishing third, the future looks bright for Australia.
“Funnily enough that’s the first time I’ve been on the podium with the Australian flag and anthem,” Piastri told Wide World of Sports.
“The last few years I’ve been using a British racing license for visa reasons.
“So whenever I won in Formula Renault last year they played the British anthem, never the Australian one. Good thing we got that changed over the off-season!
“It was definitely cool to have it played for the first time, and to have Alex on the podium with me was extra special. The whole weekend was pretty unreal. It was very nice to hear the anthem.”
Piastri’s victory wasn’t without incident. Starting third on the grid, he found himself the middle car in a three-wide sandwich at turn one.
The Australian made contact with both polesitter Sebastian Fernandez on the left, and Lirim Zendeli on the right, the damage forcing Fernandez into retirement.
“Yeah, turn one was very eventful,” Piastri said.
“I was pretty surprised that my front wing and my front left wheel didn’t depart.
“As soon as I felt the hit I thought there’s no way I’ll be making it past the next corner.
“It felt like a big hit, but I was pretty lucky because Fernandez hit my tyre instead of the front wing.
“I think the front wing copped a bigger hit when I got shoved into Zendeli on the right hand side. I was thinking it was all over after 10 seconds.
“But it turns out Dallara build a pretty strong car.”
Any thoughts that Piastri may have suffered damage disappeared very quickly, as the 19-year-old passed Zendeli around the outside of turn three for the lead, which he never relinquished.
“Going up the straight (after turn one) my steering wheel was still straight, so I knew that the steering was probably alright, I just didn’t know about the front wing,” he said.
“But even going through turn two, which is just a little kink, it felt completely normal through there, no shuddering or scraping on the ground.
“So I just assumed it was still OK and braked as late as I dared.”
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the socially-distanced podium ceremony was a little different to normal, and Piastri had to contend with his second biggest problem of the day, champagne in the eyes.
“Well the champagne bottle was a lot bigger than I was used to from Formula Renault, so I was under fire from both sides!” he said.
“After a few seconds of copping it in the eyes I thought I’d better bail out or I’m not going to be able to see anything.
“I didn’t actually know how the podium was going to work, I had to ask as I was driving back to the pits. Where do I go? Am I allowed to take off my helmet? It was all a little bit strange.”
Winning race one condemned the Australian to a 10th place start for race two, where the top 10 start in reverse order from their race one finishing positions.
The difficulty of passing in Austria was immediately evident, and Piastri was unable to make significant progress, eventually finishing eighth in what he described as “damage limitation.”
“The whole second half of the lap is pretty bad for the dirty air, which makes it hard to follow the car in front,” he said.
“Even if I had made an extra position it was only worth one more point, so I wasn’t going to risk it. I had three points, I wasn’t going to go all-out to get four.
“But I was very surprised how difficult it was in race two, the tyres overheat very quickly, so after a few laps you’ve got to back out of it and try and get your temperatures back under control.”
Piastri is a member of the Renault young driver academy, with the team’s F1 star Daniel Ricciardo one of those to reach out after the victory.
“I had an Instagram message from Daniel to say well done, which was cool, and also Alain Prost,” Piastri revealed.
“I got a ridiculous amount of messages, but obviously when a world champion and also Australia’s current F1 driver get in touch it really sticks with you.”
Piastri’s manager, former F1 driver Mark Webber, was full of praise for the young Australian’s performance.
“There was a lot of racing instinct involved in that first sector, both at turn one and turn three, but Oscar came out of it very well,” Webber told Wide World of Sports.
“It’s true that he got sandwiched at turn one after a sensational launch off the line, but he balanced risk and reward, and the racing gods were on his side.”
According to Webber, it’s key that Piastri has established himself early on as one of the drivers to beat, ahead of round two of the series this weekend at the same track.
“Momentum in any sport is crucial and he’s off to a nice start,” he said.
“I told Oscar that it’s like cricket, it’s good to have the runs on the board and not have to chase them.
“Of course, it’s a positive that there’s another race at the same venue next weekend, but there’ll be no resting on his laurels, he’ll have a mental reset and be ready for a fresh weekend.”