McLaren boss reveals Mercedes surprise as encouraging Max Verstappen claim made

Michelle Foster
Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris with their trophies

Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris on the Australian GP podium with their trophies

Even without Max Verstappen’s retirement, Andrea Stella believes McLaren would’ve been in the fight for a podium in Australia, especially with their advantage over Mercedes.

Lando Norris secured McLaren’s first podium of the championship as the Briton brought his MCL38 home in third place where he was just three seconds down on the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.

Andrea Stella: I was not expecting that

It was, though, overall an unexpected outcome as pole-sitter Max Verstappen retired from the Grand Prix with a brake fire shortly after being overtaken by Carlos Sainz for the lead.

Losing performance and positions, Verstappen crept towards the pit lane where his rear-right brake exploded, putting paid to his Sunday afternoon at the Albert Park circuit.

Ferrari went on to claim the 1-2 with Sainz victorious while Norris joined the team on the podium with his P3.

But while Stella believes McLaren would’ve been in contention even if Verstappen had remained in the race as Norris was potentially beaten by Leclerc in the pit stops, he was surprised by their advantage over Mercedes and Aston Martin.

They’d been fighting for sixth place late in the race with Fernando Alonso and George Russell running more than a minute behind Norris. recommends

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The F1 2024 Drivers’ Championship standings without Max Verstappen

“I think what happened in terms of split of pace between McLaren, Ferrari, I think potentially Verstappen, he already kind of started to complain even at the start of the race, so it looks like today, McLaren and Ferrari could’ve been there with Verstappen,” said McLaren team boss Stella.

“But this split between these cars, and then Aston, Mercedes and everyone else, that does surprise me. Like I was not expecting that.”

He believes tyre degradation played a role in what he called a tyre-dominated race.

“Sainz kind of supported the theory that today was a tyre-dominated race,” he added.

“Because definitely, there was not that much difference in the car between a McLaren and a Mercedes. It is more about dealing with the tyres, because after 10 laps the tyres, if you have less degradation than somebody else, your car could be three, four-tenths faster just because you have much less degradation.

“So I think it has to do with the anomaly or a very unique tyre behaviour we have in Australia.”

But the good news for McLaren and every one of Red Bull’s rivals, Stella thinks the RB20’s advantage is not as big as it was in the opening two rounds of the season where Red Bull clinched the 1-2 results.

He added: “The positive news is that this faster car is not faster by much at all. We were very close.

“That 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.”

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