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Stella defends McLaren F1 team strategy in “complex” Japanese GP

McLaren Formula 1 boss Andrea Stella has defended the strategy calls the team made for Lando Norris in the “complex” Japanese Grand Prix.

Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Norris started third and was the first of the frontrunners to pit, but as the race unfolded he lost out to Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to finish in fifth, while the latter came through to fourth from eighth place on the grid using a one-stop strategy.

After the race, while accepting that the Ferraris were expected to have stronger race pace, Norris suggested he could have run longer before his final pitstop rather than coming in at the same time as Leclerc.

But Stella insisted the team made the right calls with a view to an attacking strategy that might have earned a podium finish.

“I think we were a little out of options because when we stopped Lando at the start, we kind of knew that Ferrari were ready to go to undercut us,” he said.

“So we wanted to play preventatively. We had two sets of hard, so we could stop early, and in stopping Lando early we wanted to see like, can we go for the podium? And we even tried to see can we go to beat Perez?

“I thought it was worthwhile trying that. Ultimately, this put us on a race which might have been slightly unpreferred from overall time [of the race] point of view, but I think it was very worthwhile trying. So on Lando's side we are happy that we wanted to try finishing on the podium.”

Watch: F1 2024 Japanese Grand Prix Review – Normal Service Resumed

Addressing Norris’s questioning of the timing of his second pit visit, Stella said the team also had to keep an eye on Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

“The timing of the second stop was forced by Leclerc,” he said. “Also there was Carlos approaching Lando. So Carlos would have overtaken Lando and once Carlos overtakes Lando, Lando loses time, and then he ends up behind Hamilton and Russell.

“Because when you race so many cars, you have to consider multiple implications. It's not like you're racing only one car.

“I'm not sure how fun it is for spectators, but for us, it makes the race quite complex in terms of who you are actually fighting.”

Asked by Autosport if the team could have done something different and beaten Leclerc, Stella said: “I don't think today it was possible to do much more, to finish on a podium in particular. Maybe with Lando if we had given up attempting to finish on a podium, we could have finished ahead of Leclerc.

“That is, if anything, the only opportunity in hindsight, that could have come to us, but it would have meant giving up a podium finish, which we were not ready to do.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Stella conceded that Oscar Piastri had a more low-key race on his way to eighth place, as the Australia lost out to Russell in the closing laps.

“With Oscar, I don't think there were many different options at all today,” he said. “If we look at the final classification, it goes in the order of car competitiveness. I think just a shame that with Oscar, with the final lock up, we lost the position to Russell.

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“Otherwise, we would have finished ahead of Mercedes and that, like I say, could pretty much be the finishing order - considering that Fernando [Alonso] he has done a very good job like he normally does, so he's a little special in that respect, and I think alters a little bit the competitiveness of the car.”

Summing up the weekend he said: “We are happy. We are [the] third-best scoring team once again, consolidating the third position in the championship. That's a positive outcome.”

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