Aston Martin’s slide from competitiveness at the front of the field is being used as a warning against complacency by McLaren team principal Andrea Stella.
Mike Krack’s team achieved a huge step forward over the winter to start this season as the nearest challenger to Red Bull, with Fernando Alonso scoring six podiums in the opening eight races. With 154 points scored in that time, Aston has only picked up 67 in total since, a run coinciding with McLaren’s recovery that has seen Stella’s team closing in quickly in the constructors’ standings.
But Stella said he was “very mindful” of how McLaren’s form can fall away too.
“If anything we are trying to be as rigorous as possible from a development point of view to ensure that we are not short cutting any steps,” he said. “We don’t get too like ‘We need to develop faster’ and then you start to skip some methodical steps that we have applied so far.
“But I think everyone at McLaren – especially the technical leadership – are very aware that the pace of development is already fast and that is what we need to keep pursuing. And then we will see once we are in Bahrain next year who has been able to develop faster.
“We saw with Aston Martin that over the winter big steps are possible. Or like with McLaren that you can do it even during the season.”
Lando Norris has finished second in each of the past two races and Oscar Piastri backed that up with his first podium in Japan, but Stella believes there are no realistic venues this season where McLaren can target beating Red Bull to victory.
“Still a step too far. In fairness, at the moment it looks like it’s Max (Verstappen) who is one step too far. There’s a variability of tracks left in the season, but none of these tracks has the Singapore characteristics.
“So while there could be some tracks where we could be competitive – I think Qatar should be a decent rack for us – I’m afraid that the characteristics we like are also the characteristics where Red Bull will be just outstanding. So we will have to be realistic that we will need some situations to happen to be able to make the final step.”
Whether such progress is possible over the winter before the 2024 season is another matter, with Stella saying the signs are promising for McLaren at this stage but he’s wary of other threats.
“At the moment we are encouraged by the development that we see on next year’s car. At the same time I guess that’s the same for everyone because right now some concepts are starting to be quite clear across the paddock, so we don’t know whether we are developing faster than other teams and above all we don’t know whether we are developing faster than Red Bull.
“But let’s not forget I think Mercedes realized what they need to work on and I suspect they are going to jump back quite strongly, so there’s no factual elements at this stage to say ‘this is the pecking order we will see next year’. I think things can evolve.”