Stella: McLaren swapped cars in F1 Australian GP as it “would have happened naturally” with Norris’ fresher tyres

Photo Credit: McLaren Racing
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McLaren Formula 1 team boss Andrea Stella has stated that it was possible that Charles Leclerc could have been beaten with a better strategy in Sunday’s race.

If McLaren had followed Ferrari and teammate Oscar Piastri’s undercut strategy in Melbourne, third-placed Norris thinks he could have taken second place from Leclerc.

Piastri and Leclerc pitted at the end of lap 9 as McLaren wanted to undercut the Monegasque driver who was directly in front. Leclerc had been right behind Norris, too.

McLaren decided to extend with Norris, pitting him at the end of lap 14. Even though Leclerc and Piastri came out behind Hülkenberg and Gasly, they cleared the Haas and Alpine quickly.

McLaren did not want to take “unnecessary risks” with Norris due to the strong position he was in at the time.

“It’s possible [he could have been P2 if they reacted to Leclerc]. It’s possible. That was very, very early in the race, a race with a high degree of uncertainty as to the behaviour of the hard tyres.

“And in fact, we saw that there were certainly some big cars that didn’t look quick at all because they were not working well with the tyres — one is the Red Bull of Perez.

“So, I think we actually went for this aggressive strategy, trying to pass Leclerc with Oscar.

“But Leclerc decided that it was a good idea as well. And they went at the same time – potentially, because of listening to our radio.

“This also meant that Leclerc and Oscar would have gone below two cars fighting each other.

“So, with Lando in a strong position, we thought that was an unnecessary risk.”

Even though Ferrari was faster as expected, Stella was extremely pleased at how close McLaren was to Ferrari in Melbourne.

Suzuka is next up and McLaren had a mightily fast car around there in 2023, securing a double podium finish in the process. Stella is confident they will be extremely competitive once again.

“Leclerc finished ahead of Lando because they have a faster car at the moment.

“The positive news is that this faster car is not faster by much at all. We were very close, which I think is encouraging for Japan in which some of the characteristics that make Australia good for us take another step further in having a higher ratio of medium-high-speed [corners] compared to low-speed.”

On lap 29, Norris made his way by into turn 3 as McLaren asked Piastri to move aside following his earlier undercut that gave him track position.

The Brit proved to be quicker than his teammate on the day but fell short of getting Leclerc. The Monegasque ultimately set the fastest lap, too.

Stella explained the reasoning behind the swap.

“I would say that swap wasn’t even strategic. That was executional.

“The swap would have happened naturally because Lando had much fresher tyres — we called the swap to avoid that this comes to unnecessary racing.

“But despite having fresher tyres, actually, we didn’t catch Leclerc enough. This is why I’m saying Ferrari were quick today.”