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Formula 1 Austrian GP

Stella downplays McLaren F1 upgrade pace after “bittersweet” qualifying

McLaren Formula 1 boss Andrea Stella has downplayed the performance of the team’s new upgrades in Austria but he admits that it represents a “good platform” from which to progress.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60

The team opted to give the first step of a new package that will be split over three races only to Lando Norris, allowing it to perform a direct back-to-back with Oscar Piastri’s standard car over the whole Red Bull Ring weekend.

Norris was sixth fastest in Q1 after losing a lap time to track limits that would have put him third. Subsequently he was third in Q2 and fourth in Q3, behind only Max Verstappen and the two Ferrari drivers.

The consistent performance on a normal dry track indicated that the updates worked well, but Stella was keen to point out that Piastri wasn’t too far behind in the other car.

The Australian lost a lap time to track limits in Q2 that would have left him eighth in that session, only 0.175s off Norris.

Instead he didn’t progress to Q3 and will start Sunday’s race from 13th place, leading Stella to suggest that the day had been “bittersweet” for the Woking team.

"It's Austria and lap times are quite compact,” Stella told Autosport when asked about Norris’s performance.

“If we see the lap time that was deleted of Oscar in Q2 it's actually not too far from Lando, just a few tenths. This is pretty much in line with what we expected from the package.

“For me the most important thing is that we measured what we expected, which means that the development works, and this is a good platform for the next developments that will come.

“Independently of the result, which is obviously a bit bittersweet today, because Oscar should have been in Q3, the most important thing is the foundation, which seems to be good for the future."

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Stella also cautioned that Norris qualified well in Spain and suggested that the team needs to see how the updates perform on upcoming circuits.

“I'm a little prudent because Austria is a track a little bit like Barcelona,” he said. “We were P3 in Barcelona. Obviously the gap was bigger, here I think we are more competitive, looking at the gaps.

“Austria, positive indications, but it needs to be confirmed in other tracks. Austria with the big braking and the high-speed is another one that suits us, and there was no sun again."

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Regarding the decision to split the specifications of the cars Stella noted that Austria is known for generating floor and bodywork damage on kerbs, with the added complication of it being a sprint weekend.

"It's just what we were in condition to realise,” he said. “We could have gone with two cars, but especially in Austria as we know is the attrition is high, as we have proven.”

Norris could have a slight advantage over key rivals heading into Saturday’s sprint qualifying session. If the track is dry he is one of only three drivers from the main race top 10 to have new softs for SQ3, along with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.

Potential rivals such as Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly have no new softs left.

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