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McLaren F1 team bracing for "damage limitation" in Chinese GP

McLaren team boss Andrea Stella says he is expecting Formula 1's return to China to be an exercise in "damage limitation" for his squad given its large number of low-speed corners.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

McLaren started off 2024 in good shape, heading into the fifth round of the season as the third team in the pecking order, ahead of Mercedes.

But while it remains strong on high-downforce circuits, the team admitted at the start of the year that its persistent low-speed weakness still hadn't been addressed yet.

That weakness could come back to haunt it at some circuits more than others, with F1's return to the Shanghai International Circuit a particular headache for the Woking team.

The 5.4km venue is not only littered with hairpins, but it also has a unique start of the lap through the ever-tightening Turn 1 through 4 complex that combines the type of slow, long corners where the McLaren lacks grip compared to its rivals.

"I have to say that of these first part of the season, China is the track that worries me the most from a competitiveness point of view," Stella acknowledged.

"You have so much low-speed, hairpins. Even in corner two, corner three, you spend so long in long corners.

"And I think it's been a theme I've been repeating. So far, we haven't been able to improve the car enough in these low-speed, medium-speed long corners.

"So from a competitive competitiveness point of view, I would expect a more difficult situation than here in Suzuka, Australia and the first part of the season."

Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren

Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren

Photo by: Erik Junius

"China may be a bit of damage limitation for us. And then from Miami onwards, hopefully we start kind of a better stage of this 2024 season and more to come in the second part of the season."

But Stella also recognised China hosting the first sprint format of the season offers some opportunities, as teams will have just one free practice session to get to grip with the circuit and its new tarmac before sprint qualifying.

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"Definitely it's going to be a challenging event, from several points of view. What is the tarmac situation will we find?

"At the same time, let's not forget that China was one of the most severe tracks for graining. So how will the tyres be able to cope with this?

It's also a tricky track in terms of balance between some very high-speed corners, like entering corner one, and then many low-speed sections.

"Seeing it in isolation, it gives a headache. But once you see it from a competitive point of view, I think you need to think: 'If I do not do a perfect job, but a little bit better job than others, then this could be a big opportunity."

Additional reporting by Jonathan Noble

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