McLaren answer killer Lando Norris question on everyone’s lips after Imola GP

Jamie Woodhouse
Lando Norris on the Imola podium.

Lando Norris came to within a few tenths of toppling Max Verstappen at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

Did Lando Norris need just one more lap to pass Max Verstappen for the win at Imola? McLaren team principal Andrea Stella suggested Verstappen had rather judged his tyre life to perfection.

It appeared for much of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix that Verstappen had just enough pace at his disposal to keep Norris – who pulled off a shock first F1 career victory in Miami – at bay, that was until Norris began whittling away the Red Bull driver’s lead during their second stint with them both on the hard tyres.

‘Max Verstappen made sure he had just enough for Imola win’

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

Verstappen would hold Norris off to secure a fifth win of the season, but with the gap only 0.7 seconds across the line, Norris suggested he needed just one more lap to mount an attack on the Championship leader.

However, when pressed by media including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher on whether he agreed with Norris’ assessment, McLaren team boss Stella instead suggested that Verstappen mastered the use of his tyre life “budget” to make sure that he had enough to secure victory.

“I think that there were already 63 laps, which is many,” said Stella in response to Norris’ theory.

“And I think Max did a good job in managing his budget over the 63 laps, and just making sure that it was enough to retain the first position.

“I also think that it’s good to be in the quest for the victory at the end of the race. But ultimately, if we look at the first stint, Max was opening the gap. I think it was an interesting race because the tyres were able to operate within a narrow window and therefore I think a combination of driver, car characteristics, the way you were using the tyres, created different scenarios from a competitiveness point of view.

“The first stint, Max seemed to be in control and we needed to look at the mirrors with Lando, even if Oscar [Piastri] actually was putting quite a lot of pressure on Carlos [Sainz].

“Second stint, Lando took care of his tyres at the start of the stint, because we saw that the medium struggled, which meant that it was not going to be an easy run to the end on hard tyres. And also we saw that people who had the hard tyres in the first stint, they were not very brilliant, like [Sergio] Perez.

“So it was very tactical from this point of view and I think Lando did a good job of saving tyres for a long part of the second stint and then using the budget towards the end.

“But at the same time, there was times were [Charles] Leclerc was the fastest car on track, so a very, very interesting race from this point of view.

“I think we see the benefit of having more than one competitive car, which creates various scenarios and I think that was quite entertaining, certainly on the pit wall.”

More key talking points from the 2024 Imola GP

👉 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix driver ratings: Masterful Max and Stroll outshines Alonso

👉 Potential weakness in upgraded McLaren MCL38 highlighted by Oscar Piastri

Asked whether having Piastri in the fight, should he not have been held up behind the Ferraris, could have put Verstappen under greater pressure strategy wise, Stella argued that McLaren did not have the pace in the opening stint to make that possible.

He would then heap praise on Verstappen, who he felt showed the driving skills which decided the race outcome.

“I think the pace Max had in the first stint on medium tyres was just superior to what we had,” said Stella when quizzed on whether McLaren could have played strategic games.

“And I think with Lando we minimised the race time, you know, just managing the budget of the tyres. I don’t think for us, it would have been possible to play tactically with somebody stopping early. I think we played our cards.

“In fairness, I think, like Red Bull, certainly very good car, but I think we also see the skills of the driver who won the race is Max Verstappen. And for us, it’s important that we prove that we can be there and knock at the door of victories in a weekend in which, you know, like, at some stage, it looked like Ferrari had the fastest car, then Max appeared in qualifying, like it was very variable. So it’s important that in the race we were there.”

Put to him that Verstappen appears to be able to pull away in the second phase of launches at the race start, Stella was then asked whether McLaren can counter this with a software change, though he instead took this as an opportunity to credit Verstappen further.

Calling Verstappen’s consistency “amazing” at race starts, Stella said the Dutchman is setting the all-round standard which McLaren must also strive for.

“No, I think if we look at Verstappen’s consistency in launches, it’s just amazing,” said Stella to that software change suggestion, “it’s true, he scores pole position, but you rarely see him losing the first position at the first corner.

“And gaining this consistency in launches, is again, the result of good work.

“I say often how much I admire the fact that they can win so consistently, because there’s so many ways in which things can go wrong. We’ve proven with a mistake in qualifying with our operations.

“But even achieving this level of consistency in launches, this is the quality of the driver executing the launch, it’s tyre preparation, it’s definitely having a good engine in the acceleration phase, then you can gain a little bit of an advantage, for instance, in reaction time, like Lando might have done.

“But if you have such a consistent launch, like Verstappen has, then you don’t sort of gain the position. So it shows that you need to do a good job all around to be successful and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Verstappen’s 2024 triumph was his third victory in a row at Imola.

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