SUZUKA, Japan -- McLaren team principal Andrea Stella believes Oscar Piastri has similar traits to two-time champion Fernando Alonso and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.
This week, Piastri, who is in his rookie season in F1, signed a new contract to remain at McLaren until the end of 2026.
McLaren worked hard to sign Piastri last year after a loophole in his deal with Alpine, which supported him for much of his junior career, saw him at the centre of a contractual tug of war between the two teams.
Stella worked closely as an engineer with Schumacher at Ferrari and Alonso at McLaren and Ferrari, and believes Piastri has similar qualities to both drivers as well as the natural speed needed to compete at the top level in F1.
"We saw the qualities at the attitudinal level, and these qualities have to do with being able to continuously improve," Stella said. "You may be as talented as I'm saying [he is], but there are a lot of people that were talented but didn't lead anywhere because there was no attitude to continuous improvements.
"I think we have really good examples now on the grid of drivers that can keep being extremely competitive at ages that we didn't think that will be obvious because of continuous improvements -- just attitude to continuous improvements. In this sense I think this one is a similarity with Fernando.
"Then we have the person behind the driver. For us it was important to make sure that the person that we keep on board is a person that not only fits our culture but will contribute to establishing the culture even more and potentially adding to the culture, adding to the values and the behaviours that make us become a team of mates.
"And in this sense Oscar, I have to say, from just a personal point of view, if he wasn't a Formula One driver, I would appreciate him as a person. The values he brings into the sport and the values he brings into the collaboration with the team in this sense makes me think about Michael.
"Somebody who worked with Michael here in the paddock -- he is at another team -- said to me he was so capable of building families. It was definitely tough on track, but within the team, the spirit, the sense of unity was not short of like a family, a sense of family.
"So I think I'm referring to natural talent attitude and culture and values. These three things became apparent to us relatively soon, and that's why the conversations started soon."
Piastri still had one year left to run on his original McLaren contract, but Stella wanted the 21-year-old committed longer term to allow the relationship between driver and team to reach its full potential.
"It is a new contract because it became very apparent for us that we wanted to secure this prospect and we wanted to realise the full extent of the collaboration," Stella said. "It came at the point in which it was very apparent for us that Oscar is the right driver for McLaren, because of the many, many reasons. I would like to say that this has been clear to us very early.
"The announcement comes now but actually the agreement was found pretty early on because what we needed to assess became clear and apparent to us very soon. I'm happy to say that the same was on Oscar's side.
"It was recognised by both parties that this is the collaboration that should lead both parties -- from a team point of view and from a driver point of view -- into the future."