Piastri admits gap to Verstappen was “a lot bigger than I would prefer” in Japan F1 qualifying

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Oscar Piastri secured a remarkable front row start for McLaren at the 2023 Japanese GP after a strong qualifying session in Suzuka, in which he outqualified his team-mate Lando Norris and was Max Verstappen’s closest challenger – but the Australian admitted after the session the gap to the Red Bull was “a lot bigger” than he would prefer.

Photo Credits: McLaren Racing

Piastri is running the heavily upgraded MCL60 that Lando Norris debuted in Singapore for the first time in Japan, and put them to good use with a superb qualifying effort leaving him P2 on the grid for Sunday’s race, only behind reigning world champion Max Verstappen – although with a gap of nearly six tenths of a second to the Dutchman.

Speaking after the session, the Australian said the team expected a decent weekend in Suzuka, but despite claiming he is “very happy” to be on the first row of the grid, he admitted some frustration with the huge gap to Verstappen at the end of Q3:

“[I’m] very, very happy. I think [on Friday] we thought we could be in for a solid weekend. And then I think this morning we made some good changes. And the car looked quick in FP3. And I was getting more used to the track too.

“So yeah, very, very happy to be on the front row. Of course, the gap is a little bit or a lot bigger than I would prefer,” he admitted. “But yeah, I’m happy to be in second.”

The 22-year-old said he could have been closer to the Dutchman had his final flying lap went to plan, but not enough to close down the huge six tenths margin:

“There was a bit, I think I was about two tenths up after the first sector, but I wasn’t going to find six. So yeah, in the end, it didn’t make much of a difference,” he said. “But of course, you know, when you’re up on your lap before, of course you want to keep going that way and yeah, just a little bit frustrated that I didn’t manage to improve on the second lap. But in the end it didn’t matter.”

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella shared Piastri’s thoughts on the gap to Verstappen, also admitting he expected the papaya cars to be “a little bit closer” to pole position, and saying it shows the extent of the work that needs to be done in order to close the deficit to the RB19 in the hands of Verstappen:

“In fairness, I would have expected to be a little closer,” said Stella. “We are P2, P3, it’s a good result for the team, but six tenths is a significant amount of work that we still have to do.

“In a way it puts us with the feet back on the ground, not that we have ever taken off at all, but quantitatively there’s a lot of aerodynamic performance that we need to add on the car still.”

Looking ahead to the race, Piastri recalled the British GP, when the team tried to run Verstappen close by using two cars against one, and warned that Suzuka might even be “a lot more open” due to the high tyre degradation and variety of strategies that might be on display:

“We’ll try. I mean, we tried our best and Silverstone, so we’ll try and do the same thing. But obviously it’s going to be difficult. I think it’s going to be a very difficult race tomorrow as well. Very different to Silverstone in that regard. So yeah, it could be a lot more open, I think.”