McLaren still doesn’t believe it has the pace to hold off Max Verstappen if it leads a race, despite the performance of Lando Norris in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Norris took pole for the Sprint and finished second to Verstappen after losing out at the start, and then took the restart in Sunday’s race in P2, allowing him to attack early on. With Verstappen holding Norris off, the pair traded similar lap times throughout the race and Norris comfortably set the fastest lap after extending his middle stint, but after finishing eight seconds adrift of the race winner team principal Andrea Stella says tire usage remains the main differentiator and that holding the Red Bull at bay is still unlikely.
“Hmmm, no, I think at the moment the difference is not in the dirty air, I think the difference is mainly, in terms of lap time, on used tires,” Stella said. “We have seen that on new tires we can fight for pole position, but as soon as the tires degrade it would appear Max, Red Bull, they can have just less degradation.
“Here the tires were degrading maybe one tenth every two laps, so it’s a significant amount of degradation – and if you can limit that, after 10 laps in a stint this is (five) tenths of a second. So I think this is where they are superior at the moment, and where we think the difference is made we can’t do very much with this car.
“The car has improved with the Singapore upgrade, in terms of tire management, but not enough to be able to compete – especially when degradation is high like (in Brazil). And we saw some cars degrading quite a lot, like Mercedes, Ferrari.”
But Stella admits there are no guarantees about how Verstappen would fare if he had to try and find a way past Norris, so McLaren went aggressive at Interlagos on Sunday to try and offer up a different challenge.
“Certainly in terms of our approach, especially after the red flag, we wanted to win it – so we put at the start our best set of softs, so we decided to start on a new set so that we could try to take the lead, and from there put Verstappen in an unusual position and see what we could do.
“We couldn’t take the lead at the launch, we got very close in doing that on-track, but after that our car is starting to overheat and we needed to make sure we achieve our target lap – because Alonso wasn’t that far, at that stage it seemed like he could stay with us, but certainly we tried hard in the first stint.
“I think after that, Verstappen once again he had enough lead to actually manage the situation. Any time we tried to get a little closer, there were a few laps in the second stint were it seemed like we could do, then he put together a couple of mega laps. After the first stint there wasn’t very much we could do.”