Limitations of the MCL38 were “very well exposed” in F1 Saudi Arabian GP — Stella

Photo Credit: McLaren Racing
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McLaren had a strong result at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this past Saturday evening. Oscar Piastri who was on fine form all weekend finished P4 after a P5 start. Meanwhile, teammate Lando Norris crossed the finish line P8 on race day after a gamble that would have seen a podium a likely prospect didn’t come off. Team Principal Andrea Stella reflected post-race in Jeddah on the decision to keep Norris out and also highlighted the weaknesses which Saturday’s race exposed.

Oscar Piastri drove a fine race and looks to be set to give Norris a season long battle on track. Piastri finishing P4 to Norris’ P8 was also a result of McLaren splitting strategy when there was a Safety Car deployed early in the race. Having featured so early on in the Grand Prix, there was a very real possibility that another Safety Car would be deployed later in the race or even a red flag – a common occurrence based on previous years. McLaren took the gamble and chose not to do the double stack under a Safety Car. Even though the gamble never paid off, Stella was clear that the risk versus reward was certainly worth it.  

“Yes, the decision to split, it wasn’t easy because we knew that this is a very, very particular place, in which with the hard tyres you can do the whole race,” Stella revealed. “Last year already we did the whole race with Oscar, so when you split, you know that ultimately, you’ll have to overtake the cars on hard, and this is going to be difficult. At the same time, by staying out, potentially we knew that we could have lost a couple of positions, but with another Safety Car car, or with a red flag at the right time – and here it’s not necessarily such a remote eventuality and possibility – the race would have come to Lando with a big reward, like it would have been a podium finish. So, we thought it was worthwhile doing.”

Stella also explained how such a strategy was already discussed before the race and due to closeness of track and “the uncertainty of having the double stack” it made sense. Even though such a move had its obvious benefits, Stella did explain the thought process which went through his team: “So, not an easy decision, because effectively it could unfold like it did, so you lose a couple of positions, but very high potential in staying out – so we decided to go for it.”

McLaren are currently P3 in the Constructors’ Championship and have a good package, but Stella is inevitably eager to address the car limitations as soon as possible – particularly as he felt they were well exposed at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

“The points of strength, you will have seen, that anybody behind a McLaren in Sector 1 would lose ground. So, when you have these fast-flowing corners, in which it’s enough to do the first steer input, the car responds very well. When instead the corners are long (like in the last corner) and you need to really hold the steer for a long time, the car gives up a little bit and we lose a lot of time.”

Stella then complimented one of his rivals at this point saying that this performance aspect is something Ferrari are very strong at: “That’s why Leclerc was so competitive in the last sector, just that corner.”

Following this, Stella highlighted the more obvious limitation.

“Somehow still we would like to have more top speed,” stated Stella. “So, I think these two features are very well exposed, at this track, where you have the long straights, and a couple of very long corners, where the limitation gets visible.”

There are clear positives for McLaren to take from the opening two races of the 2024 F1 season. As ever, the rate of development will be key to performance, but McLaren know which areas to work on and certainly have the talent to address these in a timely manner.

Next up, is a trip to Melbourne and this means a home race For Oscar Piastri. Having come so close to the podium in Jeddah, the passion of the capacity Melbourne crowd – expected to be filled with Papaya Army members – may make all the difference. Should this be the case, then even with its obvious limitations, the MCL38 may find a pathway to the team’s first podium of the season.