Andrea Stella believes second place wasn’t on the cards for Lando Norris, had Carlos Sainz not offered his assistance…
Lando Norris secured a thrilling second place in the Singapore Grand Prix, coming home just behind race winner Carlos Sainz as the two close friends secured a ‘CarLando’ one-two finish for the first time in the sport.
With the two pursuing Mercedes catching the two leaders rapidly in the closing stages, following a switch to fresh medium tyres under the Virtual Safety Car, it was Sainz’s decision to slow the pace and give Norris use of DRS in both attack and defence that meant the duo both held on to their respective positions.
Andrea Stella: I was certain Mercedes were going to overtake us
McLaren team boss Andrea Stella admitted after the race that he was certain Norris’ second place was doomed when he was Mercedes take the opportunity to give up track position and take the medium tyres with less than 20 laps remaining.
“When I saw them going onto the sets of brand new mediums, I thought they were going to pass us,” Stella explained.
“Because the new medium was the correct tyre for that situation, considering the stint length just I thought there was a good chance.
“We considered actually pitting, but we would be on a used softs and we were nervous of 16 or -17 laps flat out on a used soft. So we decided to stay out. We would have pitted in case of a Safety Car, but not in the case of the Virtual Safety Car.”
Powerless to do anything but watch on as George Russell and Lewis Hamilton relentlessly carved into the lead of Sainz and Norris up front, Stella said he had been preparing a consolation speech for his crew members – so certain was he that the Mercedes drivers would come out on top.
“It was tense, but I kind of was not very optimistic,” he explained.
“I was just waiting for it to happen and was ready to say: ‘Don’t get too disappointed.’ They had double medium, it really played well into their hands with this VSC, and we tried our best. But then things changed.”
‘Collaboration’ with Carlos Sainz allowed Lando Norris to resist George Russell advances
But, once the Mercedes latched on to the back of Norris, who was using the DRS to keep up with Sainz in a canny tactical ploy from the Ferrari driver, Russell was unable to quickly pass Norris – his tyres also seeming to go off as he circulated in the turbulent air from the McLaren.
A good opportunity opened up on Lap 59, with Norris just about holding onto second place in what would prove to be the decisive defence of the race.
“Once behind us, potentially due to brakes overheating because they had been talking about brakes during the race, soon they lost a little bit of this momentum in getting traction with the softer tyres,” Stella said.
“Then the last three laps, I said: ‘Maybe we can do it.'”
While Sainz wasn’t offering Norris a tow out of the goodness of his own heart, knowing that having the McLaren as a buffer delayed the Mercedes charge, Stella said the co-operation between the two drivers had paid off massively for both.
“I don’t think we would have done it without the collaboration with Carlos. Let’s call it like this, “collaboration” in brackets, because Carlos, in his own interest, he wanted to have Lando within the DRS.
“So the time when Lando lost it in trying to defend, I think Carlos actively kind of waited for Lando to get within DRS. So it was a bit of teamwork between two previous team-mates for a great result for both teams.”