Stella reveals McLaren felt they “could have enough pace to finally grasp the victory” at F1 US GP

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Photo credits: McLaren Racing

McLaren Team Principal, Andrea Stella, spoke to journalists in Austin post-race – but prior to his driver Lando Norris being elevated to P2 after Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification. The man leading the resurgence at McLaren reflected on the strategy applied by his team at Circuit of the Americas and shared how surprised he was by the pace of the Red Bull and that Mercedes could match it and even better it at times.


Even before Lando Norris was promoted to P2, this was already another strong result for the Woking-based manufacturer. McLaren now have four podiums in a row and what was clear to see was that having seen Norris start P2, they were certainly going for the victory. The team’s strategy was outlined by Stella in his post-race remarks.


“On Lando’s side, we thought that firstly we wanted to go for the victory. The only way to do that was to try to go as fast as possible and let’s see what the tyres do and let’s see if the tyres are consistent or not as there was no point in just taking care of tyres and then just being slow from a lap time point of view to achieve a certain strategy. So, we just wanted to go as fast as possible,” stated Stella.


In the first stint, Norris’ strategy was working very well but the issue came in the second stint – as explained by Stella: “In the second stint, this meant that at some stage once [Max] Verstappen was close to us and then we were under attack we couldn’t defend and then we lost a little bit the tyres so we pitted on to the second set of hards. Even in this case we tried to go as fast as possible because we knew that Hamilton would’ve been a problem at the end.”


Lewis Hamilton certainly had better pace on Sunday but how much that was down to the floor irregularities which led to a disqualification is going to be a topic long debated. Even so, it is evident that McLaren still have some work to do on managing tyre degradation compared to their rivals. Nevertheless, Stella made clear that his team was very encouraged by the fact they could even consider going for the victory and by doing so by “going as fast as possible.”


McLaren were not expected to have a package which suited COTA, so Norris’ performance was even more impressive. It would probably have been a double haul of points for the team, but Oscar Piastri eventually retired 10 laps into the race after lap one contact with Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.


“It’s a real shame what happened on Oscar’s side, because we could have finished with really strong points,” explained Stella. “Unfortunately, his race ended after making contact on Lap 1, damaging the cooling system and causing the engine to overheat. Before that he’d made great progress through the field. Up to that point, despite damage to the car, the pace today was much better, so we are pleased with the improvement we have been able to make on Oscar’s side and we will bounce back in Mexico.”


Piastri’s retirement was due to the long-lasting effect after the impact with the front left wheel of the Alpine. This caused damage to the water system right under the sidepod (under the bodywork on the sidepod) and this meant that Piastri suffered a gradual loss of water pressure. Stella revealed that “at some stage we saw that temperatures were going out of control and the pressure kept reducing so we needed to retire the car.”


McLaren are the team that everyone is talking about once again as a result of their rapid progress and consistent performances. However, Stella was asked if the team were frustrated with the result due to the fact, they had been so close to a chance of victory.


“It is a good point,” Stella agreed. “Because to some extent we almost have mixed feelings. We are celebrating a podium here so at the same time, after the first stint, it looked like we could have enough pace to finally grasp the victory.


“I would like to reaffirm that we are very happy with the podium, and this is certainly something that, after the initial second after the race, was ‘ah shame we didn’t win it’,” said Stella.

“I think everyone realises the proportion of adding a sequence of podiums in this season when thinking where we started from. But I also like this determination when by now we look for the next step,”

Stella also remarked that his team remain realistic that they are not going to “have any magic in terms of car development” to actually add the lap time or add the improvement from a tyre degradation point of view. However, with that said, McLaren was not expecting COTA to bring the success it did – leading the race for an entire stint and a half. So, now Stella is eagerly looking forward to the coming races and explained that “hopefully we can succeed.”


Stella also revealed to the media in attendance in Austin that he was not surprised that Mercedes had not tried to cover Verstappen with Hamilton in the first round of pitstops even though McLaren had chosen to do so with Norris. The McLaren Team Principal felt that Mercedes had been “expecting their tyres to hold better than they actually did because actually Lewis lost quite a bit of time in staying out for a few more laps.”

With all this going on, McLaren had made the decision not to be focusing too much on what Verstappen or Hamilton were doing seeing how they were simply trying to go to the end as fast as possible. Alongside this, Stella was surprised to see Verstappen’s pace in the first stint as it was below his expectation. The pace at that time also resulted in optimism within the team that maybe the race victory would come their way.


“I thought Verstappen’s pace was below my expectation, I thought he would be making ground more rapidly, that is actually what gave us a more flattering situation that maybe today we can do it. Because he didn’t seem too quick. Then once we were on to the hard tyres and he was on the medium tyres I think he was quick because of the car, quicker than he was in the first stint, and he was potentially quicker because of the tyres,” Stella concluded.


Such a difference in time on the two compounds leads to a conclusion that the medium tyres were better tyres on race day and the degradation of the hard was too much by comparison. With that in mind, the question was inevitably posed to Stella as to whether the result would have been different with a second set of fresh medium tyres. On that issue, Stella was pragmatic as he claimed: “I don’t think the result would’ve been different because Hamilton and Verstappen were too quick for us but possibly, we could’ve stayed in the game a little longer.”


McLaren continue to be a force to be reckoned with and have leapfrogged Aston Martin into P4 of the Constructors’ Championship. The Woking-based team now has Scuderia Ferrari in its sights. Even though the Prancing Horse are currently 80 points in front, confidence is high within the team so maybe their slogan of ‘believe in McLaren’ could yet lead to miraculous results.