McLaren believe it’s not a case of catching Red Bull, but catching Max Verstappen

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen, Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris after qualifying.

Max Verstappen with Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

McLaren’s biggest hurdle they must overcome to win a grand prix is not so much Red Bull, it is “in fairness” Max Verstappen who is “one step too far” ahead admits Andrea Stella.

For a team that missed their development targets during the off-season, McLaren’s resurgence during the season has been impressive to behold.

Introducing a big upgrade at the Austrian Grand Prix and another in Singapore, the Woking team may be fifth in the standings but in Japan they showed they’re second on the track. Only behind Verstappen, in fact.

McLaren: In fairness, it’s Max who is one step too far

McLaren’s rookie star Oscar Piastri qualified second at the Suzuka circuit with Lando Norris P3 with race pace costing the Aussie in the grand prix as he fell behind his team-mate.

The duo brought home McLaren’s first double podium of the season with an enthused Norris issuing the rallying cry: “We are coming for Red Bull!

That, though, is easier said than done with team boss Stella conceding that the Red Bull, at least with Verstappen behind the wheel, is still ahead.

“Still a step too far. But in fairness, at the moment, it looks [as if] Max is one step too far,” Stella conceded to

As such he’s urged caution as he reckons there isn’t another grand prix horribilis awaiting Red Bull such as Singapore, the one race the Milton Keynes squad hasn’t won this season.

“There’s a variability of tracks left in the season, but none of these tracks has the Singapore characteristics,” he added.

“While there could be some tracks in which we could be competitive – I think Qatar should be a decent track for us – I’m afraid that the characteristics we like, they are also the characteristics where Red Bull will be just outstanding.

“So we’ll have to be realistic that we’ll need some situations to happen to be able to make the final step.” recommends

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As arguably the most improved team on this year’s car, McLaren shaving more than a second off their lap time since the start of the season, Stella admits the team is well aware that as progress can be made, it too can be halted.

“Very mindful. Very, very mindful,” he said. “And if anything, we are trying to be as rigorous as possible, from a development point of view.

“We want to ensure that we are not shortcutting any step, and we don’t get to [a situation where we say] ‘we need to develop faster’. Then you start to skip some methodical steps that we have applied so far.

“I think everyone at McLaren, especially the technical leadership, are very aware that the pace of development is already fast. And that’s what we need to keep pursuing.

“Then we’ll see, once we are in Bahrain next year, who’s been able to develop faster. We saw with Aston Martin that over the winter, big steps are possible, or like with McLaren, that you can do it even during the season.”

Aston Martin began this year’s championship as second best to Red Bull but began to lose steam, so much so McLaren could yet catch them for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship.

They trail their Silverstone rivals by 49 points with that deficit having been 137 points after the end of the Canadian Grand Prix.

“It’s definitely doable,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown told Sky Sports. “All we can do is be as competitive as we can every weekend,” he said.

“We have to chase down Fernando, which is never easy. You can never rule him out. We have got to have a couple of big points races like we did last weekend [in Singapore] where maybe Aston Martin don’t get in the points.

“It’s mathematically possible but we have to keep on pushing and that’s all we can do.”

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