Why setup choices leave McLaren ‘vulnerable’ for Belgian Grand Prix

Thomas Maher
McLaren's Oscar Piastri at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

McLaren team boss Andrea Stella has admitted the setup choices made for the Belgian Grand Prix leave his drivers vulnerable in the race.

While Oscar Piastri raced to a strong second place after leading in the early stages of the Sprint race on Saturday, team boss Andrea Stella fears the high downforce levels on his cars leave Piastri and Lando Norris vulnerable in the much longer Grand Prix.

Piastri had enjoyed the wet conditions at the start of the 11-lap Sprint, but was powerless to stop Max Verstappen from powering past him down the Kemmel Straight after a Safety Car intervention closed up the gap to position the Dutch driver behind the rookie.

Andrea Stella: Rear wing choices will leave McLaren vulnerable

Having opted for a higher downforce rear wing choice, Stella explained that the decision paid off in the Sprint due to the tricky conditions, but the forecasted drier conditions may result in them coming under attack during the Grand Prix.

“It definitely helped our performance today (Saturday) by having a bit more downforce, which comes with the cost of drag through the rear wing,” Stella explained.

“So, in these conditions, we have seen already in qualifying, it gives quite a lot of strength in the second sector and also allows you to gain a little bit through Eau Rouge as well. So this mitigates the loss of speed from Turns 1 to 5, let’s say, so it was definitely helping in today’s conditions.

“At the same time, it leaves us vulnerable tomorrow (Sunday) in some situations, like after the start, and Safety Car restarts.

“So we are aware of that, we will try to mitigate it somehow, but we know there’s a point that could be a problem tomorrow.”

Andrea Stella: Decision was best balance for McLaren

Elaborating on the setup choice, which was made after just a single practice session due to the need to enter parc ferme conditions ahead of Friday’s qualifying, Stella admitted a slightly lower downforce setup would have been preferential in less restrictive circumstances.

“Ideally, we would go into the race with a few more kph on the straight,” he said.

“But, considering that we expected Friday and Saturday to be mixed conditions with a high likelihood of rain, from an efficiency point of view, we would have lost some competitiveness.

“Overall, we thought there was a balance – this is a decent place to be. We think that tomorrow that, let’s see what temperature we’re gonna have.

“There should be also some degradation on dry tyres, which I think will be helped by having a bit more downforce. So not a perfect situation to be, not a perfect decision but, in the balance of things, we thought it the most sensible for what we have at the moment.”

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Why didn’t McLaren choose to split setups?

Given the setup choice for both Norris and Piastri, why couldn’t McLaren have opted for running one car with a lower-downforce configuration?

The reason for that, Stella explained, is that the car has simply not yet been optimised for such circumstances.

“We have done quite a lot of work of redesign of the car from the start to the season,” he said.

“One thing that we haven’t attacked yet is actually the car at low-drag level.

“There wasn’t much efficiency to gain by going on a small rear wing, let’s say. We decided to stay at the point in which the car is, at the moment, most efficient.

“There’s not only a tactical choice based on wanting to be quick in the corners, it is more like what actually the car has to offer as a function of the rear wing level. At the moment, this is where the car performs the best.

“This is certainly something we plan to address for the future because then it creates a situation where the car is not necessarily very easy to race, especially as the conditions get dry, when you are exposed to other cars coming past.”

Read More: Lando Norris exposes huge McLaren weakness with extreme set-up chosen