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McLaren F1's Strategic Gamble Falls Short at Suzuka

McLaren F1’s Strategic Gamble Falls Short at Suzuka

09/04/2024

At Suzuka, McLaren F1’s strategic efforts couldn’t outpace Ferrari, despite team principal Andrea Stella’s optimistic tactics for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

At Suzuka Circuit, where McLaren F1 was previously the second force behind Red Bull, the team was outperformed by Ferrari this year. Team principal Andrea Stella refutes the idea that strategy influenced the outcomes for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, who finished fifth and eighth, respectively. Instead, he points directly to the inherent performance of the MCL38 cars.

“There were no issues. We aimed for the podium by pitting early, hoping to maintain our position ahead of Carlos and to challenge Pérez. Ultimately, the car wasn’t fast enough. That’s quite normal. It reflects our competitiveness at this point in the season,” Stella asserted.

“Charles and Ferrari did a great job making a one-stop strategy work, which wasn’t feasible for us. And in any case, it wasn’t the fastest strategy. It’s commendable that Ferrari managed to extend their tire life. But it wasn’t about one or two stops. It was about genuine car pace.”

Stella had hoped their strategy would work, and despite it not succeeding, he appreciated the attempt to target the podium: “I think we were somewhat short on options because when we pitted Lando early, we knew Ferrari was ready to complicate things for us.”

“Therefore, we wanted to be preventative. With two sets of hard tires available, we could afford to pit early, and by pitting Lando early, we wanted to see if we could aim for the podium. We even tried to see if we could make it to the end to beat Pérez.”

“I thought it was worth a try. In the end, it led to a race that might not have been the best from the overall race time perspective, but I think it was really worth the attempt. From Lando’s side, we are pleased we tried to finish on the podium.”

A second pit stop “forced by Leclerc”

The timing of Norris’s second pit stop was surprising, but Stella believes it was the only option to try and hold off Leclerc: “The timing of the second stop was forced by Leclerc. Furthermore, Carlos was closing in on Lando. So, Carlos would have overtaken Lando, and once Carlos passed, Lando would lose time and fall behind Hamilton and Russell.”

“When you’re competing against so many cars, you have to consider multiple implications. It’s not as if you’re racing with just one car. I don’t know if it’s fun for the spectators, but for us, it makes the race quite complex in terms of competitors.”

Asked whether the team could have done something different to beat Leclerc, Stella isn’t convinced: “I don’t think it was possible to do much more, especially to finish on the podium.”

“Perhaps with Lando, if we had given up on trying to finish on a podium, we might have finished ahead of Leclerc. In hindsight, that’s the only opportunity that might have presented itself, but it would have meant giving up on a podium finish, which we were not prepared to do.”

“Again the third most competitive team”

Oscar Piastri finished among the Mercedes, and Stella believes he could have easily finished ahead. In his view, the Australian confirmed that McLaren was the third force this weekend, as he thinks Fernando Alonso brings the Aston Martin to positions that don’t reflect its true value.

“With Oscar, I don’t think there were many different options. If we look at the final standings, it goes in the order of car competitiveness. It’s unfortunate that with Oscar, during the last lock-up, we lost position to Russell.

“Otherwise, we would have finished ahead of Mercedes, and that, as I’ve said, might be the finishing order – given that Fernando did a very good job as he usually does, so he’s a bit special in this respect, and I think it skews the perception of the car’s competitiveness.”

To summarize the weekend, the Italian draws a positive conclusion: “We’re happy. We are again the third most competitive team, which helps us to solidify our third place in the championship. It’s a positive outcome.”

McLaren F1's Strategic Gamble Falls Short at Suzuka

McLaren F1’s Strategic Gamble Falls Short at Suzuka. McLaren F1’s Strategic Gamble Falls Short at Suzuka

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