In 2023, Andrea Stella took over at McLaren. The Italian saw how his team got off to a poor start, but after a significant package of upgrades they continued to improve in the summer, ultimately resulting in a fourth place among the constructors. In conversation with the German Auto Motor und Sport, Stella discusses the development of McLaren and the difference with Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen.
From the British Grand Prix, where both McLaren drivers were equipped with the upgrades for the first time, McLaren managed to score more points than Ferrari, Mercedes, and Aston Martin. The progression did not yet result in Grand Prix victories, but Lando Norris in particular regularly finished second behind Verstappen. ‘During some qualifying sessions we were close to Red Bull or even faster, such as in Qatar or in Brazil. Red Bull is faster in the races, especially in the second half of the stints,” says Stella.
The team boss of McLaren, which last became constructors’ champion 26 years ago, hopes to be able to challenge Red Bull next season. ‘They are about two to four tenths faster than we are. We have to make up that difference in the winter. At the start of the season we were one second slower in qualifying and one and a half seconds in the race,” the 52-year-old indicates that the gap has already largely been closed.
Stella enjoys new regulations
The Italian thinks that things can go a lot faster in the coming seasons under unchanged regulations. ‘We have not yet reached the stage where the development curve is flattening. I think we will see another jump in lap times in 2024. Maybe it will decrease a bit in the second half of the season. These rules have offered us many different directions for development. Before 2022, many people still said that all cars would look the same. That prediction turned out to be wrong,’ says Stella approvingly. ‘I still see opportunities to save time.’
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Red Bull is logically the target. ‘Red Bull had the foresight to design the car in such a way that they still had room for aerodynamic developments. However, it would be unfair to say that they owe their successes to that alone. They are fast because they have done a better job than the rest in the overall design, both aerodynamically and mechanically.”
Verstappen benefits from strong Red Bull
Although Stella mainly talks about Red Bull as a team, it was usually Verstappen, and not Sergio Pérez, who turned out to be in a class of his own. Still, Stella notes that the car is decisive. ‘Even an excellent driver like Verstappen can only do what the car allows him to do. We have to admit that the combination of Verstappen and Red Bull is faster than we are. We have to beat them. Red Bull is good enough to make these results possible,” said the McLaren man.
‘We have often seen that Lando (Norris, ed.) and sometimes Oscar (Piastri, ed.) showed extraordinary things, especially in the qualifications. However, it is impossible for our car to be as fast as the Red Bull, especially in the second half of the stints, regardless of who is driving the car,” says Stella. ‘Red Bull handled the tires better. You have to see the car separately from the driver.’
Yet Stella also has to admit that Verstappen is always there and everywhere. ‘What Verstappen makes the difference is that he always delivers his extremely high level, even under the most difficult conditions, in the rain in Zandvoort, or in the changing conditions in Q3 in Brazil, for example. Verstappen shows what the Red Bull can do if it is controlled perfectly,” the Italian concludes.