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McLaren will “protect” Piastri from busy Melbourne F1 schedule

McLaren will “protect” Oscar Piastri from an overly busy schedule in Melbourne as it pays more attention to driver commitments in 2024, according to Formula 1 team boss Andrea Stella.

This weekend’s Australian Grand Prix marks the home race for Piastri, who is contesting his second top-flight season.

The driver acknowledges that he tried to keep a low profile in 2023 given he arrived in F1 at the centre of a heated contract dispute between Alpine and McLaren.

Amid the popularity boom F1 is enjoying and the corresponding demand for access, which is largely owed to the success of Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’, McLaren says it is focusing on driver schedules during race events.

This, Stella explains, is to “protect delivering the performance”. The Italian engineer said: “In general, this year, we are paying more attention on the driver schedule over a race weekend.

“We want to make sure that drivers have the time to focus on performance, focus on having downtime, relax, and so on. So, we are using effectively the same approach.

“But if anything, even more carefully for Melbourne – there's many requests. But some we will accept; some we'll have to protect delivering the performance and we will not accept.”

Speaking at last year’s Las Vegas GP, which started with an ‘opening ceremony’ and concert on the main straight, during which drivers were revealed to the crowd, Lando Norris was notably lukewarm when addressing the distractions that come with F1 trying to boost the ‘show’.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, talks to the media

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, talks to the media

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

He said: “It’s definitely more of a show now than what it was a few years ago.

“To be honest, I just want to come here and drive and come here and race. I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing these types of… It's not what I enjoy doing.”

Ahead of the Australian GP, Stella has played down the likelihood of McLaren delivering major upgrades to its MCL38 challenger given it is too early into the season to “create a convincing package that is a significant step”. Instead, “minor things” will deliver “a few milliseconds”.

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“Delivering the upgrades, nowadays, it doesn't have to do very much with the logistics,” he replied when asked about the difficulties with getting new components to Melbourne.

“The main challenge is: do you bring upgrades to sprint races or not? Because you have China and Miami [rounds five and six], for instance, because you only have free practice one.

“But then you have another challenge, which is the budget cap. As soon as you have something reasonable to produce, you can't do like this because you would run out of budget.

“So, you sort of have to be convinced that this is going to be a good upgrade. Then you press the green button, and you spend the money.

“Then I would say, the next kind of reason why you don't bring upgrades to Australia is that it takes time to create a convincing package that is a significant step. It takes time.”

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