In a jaw-dropping performance at the Suzuka circuit, Verstappen secured pole position outpacing McLaren drivers Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris by roughly six-tenths. Having their drivers clinch second and third spot was a significant win for McLaren, even as the team recognised the astounding prowess of Verstappen. The gulf in speed, however, dashed some of Stella’s hopes of his drivers matching up to the Red Bulls at this challenging venue.
Stella aired his views: “We expected to be more competitive than Singapore. Yet, we were uncertain whether our performance would position us as the second-best team or whether we would share that space with Mercedes and Ferrari. We were pretty confident though that Red Bull would have clocked the best time here, considering the track layout.”
Delving into the details of the race, Stella recognised Verstappen’s remarkable speed gains at all phases stating, “If you look at the overlays, Verstappen gains in every kind of speed range, it’s quite remarkable. It underscores the extent of work we need to undertake.”
“We hoped for better results. Our positions are commendable, but the six-tenths time gap is an area we could work on. In a way, it brings us back down to earth, reminding us of the extensive aerodynamic enhancements we need to effect on the car,” Stella acknowledged.
Despite impressive top speeds on the Japan circuit in 2023, McLaren‘s performance was hampered by low-speed corners, a noted handicap through Suzuka’s tight hairpin and chicane. “Both corners are problematic. The GPS overlays show considerable time losses at these points as compared to our competitors,” Stella admitted, adding, “There weren’t any positive surprises.”
Mercedes‘ potential for an upturn wasn’t ruled out by Stella, despite sub-par qualifying performances by Lewis Hamilton and George Rusell who ended up seventh and eighth on the grid. Stella added, “The only way we can challenge Max is tactically, should we somehow manage to pull ahead at the end of the first lap. But if he takes the lead, his impressive pace will make it extremely difficult for us. Our competition is with Ferrari and Mercedes. Mercedes has an edge over us in terms of tyre degradation, so they could still be in the game tomorrow, even though their performance today was not up to their usual standard.”