Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Why McLaren thinks closer F1 qualifying gap to Red Bull is an "illusion"

McLaren boss Andrea Stella says it is an “illusion” to think that Formula 1 rivals are closing in on Red Bull based on shrinking qualifying gaps.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, battles with Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, at the start

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, battles with Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, at the start

Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Major update pushes from Red Bull’s rivals have appeared to lift teams like McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes ever closer to F1’s benchmark squad.

This seemed especially true in the sprint shootout qualifying at the United States Grand Prix where the top four teams were covered by just more than one tenth of a second.

FEATURE: What the Austin sprint race taught us about the F1 US GP

But with world champion Max Verstappen converting his pole position advantage of 0.055s into a crushing win of 9.4s over Lewis Hamilton, the long-run performance swing has delivered a reality check to rivals.

Stella, whose driver Lando Norris starts from the front row for the US GP on Sunday, thinks that the evidence of the sprint race sessions makes it clear that Red Bull’s true advantage over the opposition is not exposed.

“We have seen that when some of the cars get some grip from the soft tyres, certainly McLaren, we can almost close the gap to Red Bull – like in a Q3 session or the sprint shootout Q3,” explained Stella.

“But I think it was apparent already, even in the shootout on medium [tyres], that they had this advantage.

“Then, in the races, as soon as the tyres degrade and you have less grip available, you see that they can extract the real advantage from their car.”

Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren, in the team principals Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren, in the team principals Press Conference

Stella’s comments about the difference in the advantage of the Red Bull on different tyre compounds was proven in the sprint shootout qualifying.

While the margin over Charles Leclerc in SQ3 on the softs was 0.055 seconds, in SQ2 on mediums it was 0.205 seconds.

In races, when the grip of the tyre falls away, this is when Stella thinks the real brilliance of the Red Bull car comes to the fore.

Read Also:

“This is twofold,” he said. “I think the car works well in low grip conditions and it also works well in terms of being gentle on the tyres.

“I think we're actually understanding quite a bit why nowadays, when you look at Red Bull, why having to run the car in a certain way, makes it more aggressive to the tyres. And this is something we are working on.

“On tracks like this, where degradation is so high, then I wasn't really surprised to see that this happened and they had this kind of advantage.

“If you only look at new tyres, especially the new soft, you may be under the illusion that ‘oh, we've closed the gap.’

“But it's just because of the premium you'll get from a new soft tyre. And then once you are in the race, you see that in the sprint he was really managing the pace.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says his squad has deliberately focused on producing a car that is much better in race conditions, even if sometimes that means its qualifying pace is not well clear of the opposition.

“We've seen a theme throughout the year that we've weighted very much the development of RB19 to race runs,” he said.

“To win that sprint race today by 9.5s in 19 laps is, again, a demonstration that the car's very good on its tyres.

“There is always going to be an element of trade of not taking too much out of the car on the tyre on a Sunday or in a race, versus taking it out on one lap in quali.

“I think that it's been a very strong Saturday for us. Not only did we get the pole, albeit by half a tenth, we've also had a very strong race performance. That's sort of backed up the theme of the year.”

Be part of Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Norris calls for harsher F1 penalties amid suspicions of deliberate rule breaches
Next article Alonso back to old-spec Aston Martin for pitlane start in F1 US GP

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe