McLaren ‘rocketship’ catches Max Verstappen by surprise in ‘massive’ Silverstone ‘shock’

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) poses with McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri after British Grand Prix qualifying. Silverstone, July 2023.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) poses with McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri after British Grand Prix qualifying. Silverstone, July 2023.

McLaren’s “rocketship” car has been praised after a British Grand Prix qualifying performance at Silverstone that even took World Champion Max Verstappen by surprise.

The Woking outfit braced themselves for a tough start to the 2023 season after missing their development targets over the winter, but seemed to take a considerable step with a major upgrade package at last weekend’s Austrian GP.

Lando Norris claimed the team’s best result since Singapore 2022 with fourth place at the Red Bull Ring, raising expectations for the team’s home race at Silverstone.

Norris and rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri – running the parts that were on Norris’s car in Austria – were a constant presence in the top 10 throughout the hour-long session on a drying track, ultimately qualifying second and third behind polesitter Verstappen.

And Verstappen, targeting a sixth consecutive victory at the British GP, could not contain his shock when he learned that the McLarens were his closest challengers in qualifying.

“I was quite surprised to see [those] two there, but it’s great for McLaren as well to be here,” he said after claiming his seventh pole position of 2023.

Third on the grid represented a breakthrough result for Piastri, who was chosen by McLaren as Daniel Ricciardo’s replacement for 2023, with the Australian revealing that the car came alive after a close call in Q1.

He explained: “Very, very, very happy. What a qualifying session.

“We were almost out in Q1 and then the car was a rocketship in Q2 and Q3, feel like I put a pretty good lap together. A massive result for the team as well. To have both of us up here is a mega result, now it’s going to try and stay there for tomorrow.

“I think, yesterday, we had a bit of a rough day. I think we were a bit quicker than what we looked, just struggling to get the car in the right window, and I think we did a better job of that today.

“I think these conditions as well. We do really well in them all the time. Barcelona was a similar story; Monaco, Canada as well. So we’ve had a fair few moments like that but to pull that off in Q3 like that was a mega result.

“And obviously both of us have now got the new bits on our car and they’re working very well, so can’t thank the team enough for continuing to push from where we were at the start of the season to where we are now – it’s a massive step in the right direction.”

Speaking in his capacity as a Sky Sports F1 pundit at Silverstone, former McLaren driver Jenson Button underlined the scale of the surprise result – and hinted that the MCL60 car’s performance may bode well for the rest of the season.

“Massive shock! You look at the times yesterday and they didn’t seem that competitive, but every session in qualifying they were, both cars very quick,” he said.

“It just proves how good the car is that both of them are in the top three. And it’s so close as well. It’s two-and-a-half tenths to Max, which we kind of expect, but the top seven are [separated by] half a second, which is great.

“A really, really great job by the whole team at McLaren. It’s been many years since we’ve had two McLarens in the top three, and especially for Lando at his home race.

“This circuit has a bit of everything. It has the slow-speed sections now but it’s predominantly an aero circuit, so to see them that competitive round here does bode well for them for the coming races.”

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