June 14, 2024 New York

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This Week In Motors - ThisWeekInMotors > Blog > Formula 1 > ‘There wasn’t much to pick’ between McLaren and Red Bull in Imola says Stella

‘There wasn’t much to pick’ between McLaren and Red Bull in Imola says Stella

With Lando Norris finishing just a second behind Max Verstappen in Imola, McLaren team boss Andrea Stella could be forgiven for feeling optimistic about the season, especially after Norris’ victory in Miami. However, while pleased with certain aspects of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, Stella remained cautious. As the gaps at the top narrow, McLaren knows they must be flawless in every aspect of their race weekend—a standard they didn’t fully meet in Italy.

“Execution of the weekend is always a key factor,” said Stella. “But now, when margins are so close—the first three cars in qualifying were within one-tenth of a second—then clearly operations, the way you drive the race, and manage the tyres can become the dominant factor. Between a McLaren and a Red Bull today, there wasn’t much to choose from; other factors made the difference.”

One of those factors, according to Stella, was the talent and racecraft of Verstappen. His unexpected pole position on Saturday was pivotal in deciding the race outcome.

“I think we also see the skills of the driver who won the race—it’s Max Verstappen. But for us, it’s important to be there and knock on the door of victories. On a weekend when it looked like Ferrari had the fastest car, then Max appeared in qualifying, so it’s very variable. It’s important we were there.

“The dirty air seemed to play a big factor today. Anytime you had back markers, they seemed to play a part. So having the pole position and being ahead at the first corner gives you the free air to manage your tyres and pace. From this point of view, Max did a good job yesterday in getting the pole position and being ahead at the first corner.”

McLaren’s latest upgrades have been key in closing the gap at the top, and they will introduce new, track-specific parts for Monaco next weekend. However, they need to perfect their execution—unlike in Imola, where an error in warning Oscar Piastri of approaching cars led to his grid penalty.

Having two cars start in the top three might have provided a buffer against Charles Leclerc, who at times was the quickest car and influenced the timing of Norris’ pit stop. McLaren had to cover the risk of a Ferrari undercut, costing Norris valuable seconds as he emerged behind Sergio Perez and had to overtake the Red Bull.

Whether a later stop for Norris would have changed the outcome in his pursuit of Verstappen remains unknown. Stella took responsibility for Piastri’s penalty, which cost the Australian a chance at a podium.

“We take responsibility for Oscar not finishing on the podium. The reason for the impeding has to do with our operation; it doesn’t have to do with Oscar making any mistake at all. It was a situation created by the team. I’m sure he will have more opportunities in the future.”

McLaren sits third in the constructors’ championship behind Red Bull and Ferrari heading into Monaco next weekend.

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