Andrea Stella is convinced that Max Verstappen would not have hit the heights of F1 2023 in a McLaren as the team chase the performance level of Red Bull.
Verstappen crushed the competition through last season, winning a record 19 grands prix out of 22 as he strolled to a third Drivers’ Championship success in as many years, with team-mate Sergio Perez restricted to just two victories.
The distant chasing pack were left to battle it out among themselves for ‘best of the rest’ status, which McLaren took a good shot at snatching thanks to their extremely effective in-season development of the MCL60 car.
‘Even Max Verstappen’ subject to car performance
The MCL60 began life in F1 2023 as one of the weakest on the grid, but was transformed through McLaren’s upgrades into a regular podium-worthy machine, with nine claimed overall by the end of the season, while Oscar Piastri held off Verstappen to take sprint victory in Qatar.
Verstappen nonetheless is looking like an unstoppable force as F1 2024 approaches, but Stella argues that while it is only fair to “separate car from driver”, the dominant Dutchman is not immune to the limits of his car, claiming he could not have achieved with the RB19 what he would have done if he was driving the MCL60.
So the task for McLaren, he says, is to bring their machinery up to that level and beat the fearsome Verstappen-Red Bull combination.
“Even an excellent driver like Verstappen can only do what the material allows him to do,” Stella told Auto Motor und Sport.
“The combination of Verstappen and Red Bull is faster than we are at the moment. We have to beat them.
“Red Bull is good enough to make that performance possible. With our car, it is impossible, with any driver in the car, to be as fast as Red Bull in the second part of [race] stints.
“You have to separate the car from the driver. Where Verstappen makes the difference is that he always performs at an extremely high level, even in the most difficult conditions.
“In the rain at Zandvoort or when conditions change during Q3 in Brazil. Verstappen shows what that Red Bull can do if you handle it perfectly.”
Should Verstappen retain his grip on the World Championship in F1 2024, then he would match Sebastian Vettel’s achievement of four titles in a row with Red Bull.