Zak Brown on the ‘clear’ tactics in McLaren’s driver swap

Michelle Foster
McLaren drivers Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris in conversation after 2023 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying.

McLaren drivers Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris in conversation.

Zak Brown says it was “clear” to McLaren they needed Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris to swap positions during the Japanese GP, the team bringing home a double podium.

Although it was Piastri who starred in Saturday’s qualifying as he secured his maiden front row grid position with Norris P3, the Briton got the jump on his team-mate at the start of the race.

As Piastri was squeezed to the right of the track by pole-sitter Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver opened the door for Norris to attack his McLaren team-mate and that’s exactly what he did.

McLaren ‘clear’ on team order tactics

However, as the race strategies played out, Piastri was ahead of Norris with McLaren ordering the Aussie to move over for the Briton to protect Norris from George Russell.

With clear air ahead of him, Norris immediately dropped his team-mate and raced his way to second with Piastri making it a double podium as he took the chequered flag in third place.

But unlike Mercedes and Alpine, who also used team orders in Suzuka leading to the unhappiness of at least one driver, Piastri accepted that his race pace on the day wasn’t as “strong” as it should’ve been.

“I think the tyre management and just pace at certain points of the race was not as strong as I would have liked,” he said.

“The first stint it felt like everyone was driving extremely slowly and then when I tried to push a bit more the tyres didn’t really let me go much faster. So a few things to work on there and yeah, just pace overall in the races.

“In these kinds of races, there’s no easy way to learn apart from just going through the races and having an experience where it’s good or bad.

“So yeah, I think pace, I think the one lap pace especially in last few weekends has been a good improvement from the start of the year but definitely, in these kinds of races, the race pace is still an area to improve.”

McLaren team boss Brown says the swapping of positions was a “clear” call for McLaren to make.

“That was resolved relatively quickly,” he told Sky Deutschland. “Lando was on fresher tyres and was behind Russell the whole time.

“It was clear and the rest was about how they continued to drive it. The first podium for Oscar is of course great.”

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‘Piastri is making himself at home in Norris’ house’

Voted ‘Driver of the ‘Day’ by Formula 1 viewers, Piastri is emerging as a fan favourite and he’s also starting to make himself comfortable in Norris’ “house”.

Speaking about Piastri’s former ahead of the grand prix, 1996 World Champion Damon Hill told Sky Sports: “It couldn’t last forever, Lando knows that. This is a game where there always is someone who is going to come to your house and start putting his feet up on the table and make himself a cup of tea.”

“That’s what happens in this game, it’s not your team.

“Lando knows the score and I don’t think he got the best out of himself yesterday. He’s already said he recognises it’s not nice having a quick team-mate, he’d rather not have one.

“But for the team, it’s fantastic. They know they’ve got two drivers that they can rely on going into the future and they’re down there at the sharp end of the grid, two cars, not just one.”

With 27 points on the board at the Japanese Grand Prix, McLaren have closed the gap to Aston Martin to just 49 points with six races remaining.

Read next: ‘Lando Norris in second Red Bull would give Max Verstappen proper fight’