Horner: McLaren “will be a contender” for F1 2024 titles “if they continue on the same form”

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World Champion Max Verstappen, after a nearly solitary season marked by win after win, found himself challenged by Lando Norris during the Brazilian Grand Prix in the sprint and main race itself.

Red Bull team boss admitted post-race he was concerned about the second standing start as Norris was on new softs compared to used ones for his driver. However, Verstappen executed the start perfectly.

The McLaren star did have one go at Verstappen into turn 4 on lap 8, but the Dutchman held him off. It was a game of chicken then as tyre management became the key. The three-time World Champion won out.

“I think there was definitely a race. Lando (Norris) took his best set of tyres at the start and his best shot was probably off the line. So, I was relieved to see Max keep the lead at the end of the first lap.”

“But then it becomes a game of cat and mouse, because it’s about looking after the tyres and not stressing them too much. You are telling the driver look after the tyres, but pull out a gap — and the tow here is pretty powerful.”

The decision to make the first pit stop at the same time represented a moment of uncertainty for the teams, which then found themselves on the same strategy.

“But just like in the sprint, Max managed it incredibly well and was able to start to pull a gap. We then pitted on the same lap as Lando, and we actually extended the lead through the pitstop to just over five seconds.

“Then, on the medium [tyre], he had everything under control in the last stint. In the end it was reasonably straightforward, but McLaren definitely have been, over the last few races, our closest competitor.”

Photo Credit: Red Bull Racing

Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have been Verstappen’s main challengers at recent races aside from Mexico, but that is something that is not a concern to Horner right now.

“It’s been different people at different times during the year. I think we just keep focusing on ourselves, and whoever’s behind us on the timesheet is almost irrelevant. So long as we’re at the top of it, that’s what we focus on.”

Max Verstappen, for his part, admitted that he found himself in a situation where he could make no mistakes due to the impressice pace Norris was showing in the MCL60.

“Maybe it looks fully easy from the outside, but I think for most of every stint, Lando was matching my lap times.

“It was always like the last five to ten laps (of a stint) when it seemed like we had better tyre deg. But yeah, the beginning of every stint, I definitely had to focus a lot and I couldn’t afford to make mistakes.

“And around here with the high deg as well, it’s not the easiest to drive. It’s not like you can just relax and let the car just roll into the corners without any consequence. You had to be really on it. Luckily, everything we did today, also strategy-wise, pit stops, were good. So, very happy about that.”

McLaren’s progress since their shocking start to the campaign has been remarkable thanks to wholesale changes on the MCL60. Horner believes they’re now the most consistent team behind Red Bull and could pose a challenge next year.

“I would say it’s the most consistent car behind us at the moment. So they’ve obviously made a good progress in the second half of the year. If they continue on the same form, then for sure they’ll be a contender next year.”