In the 2023 season, McLaren experienced three races without earning a single point. The team had seemingly been hard-pressed to unlock the competitive potential in their vehicle. However, a series of upgrades introduced in recent races for both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri has marked a significant turnaround. With Norris earning back-to-back second-place finishes, and Piastri breaking into the top five, signs of hope started to appear.
Despite being a staggering 136 points behind Mercedes, which holds second place in the constructors’ standings, driver Russell insists that McLaren has emerged as a serious force in the battle for the best behind the dominant team, Red Bull. Describing the Woking-based team’s progress, Russell noted, “It’s absolutely clear they are true contenders for the second fastest team.”
He further commented on the changing landscape of the championship, expressing, “It’s very odd how Aston Martin were clearly that second-best at the start of the year.” According to him, Aston Martin‘s competitiveness seems to be in decline. He added, “Ferrari haven’t made much progress. And McLaren have made a huge jump.”
Without McLaren‘s progress, Russell confessed they would be “very, very satisfied with the progress we’re making. Moving ahead of the midfield pulling a gap on our rivals, closing on Red Bull.” However, McLaren‘s progress has upset these plans, although it also instills optimism in the possibility of making bigger strides.
Russell maintains strong faith in his team and shares, “I think it gives us confidence and optimism that we can make that step to Red Bull.” He adds that their primary pursuit is not to outperform McLaren, Aston Martin, or Ferrari, but to catch up to Red Bull.
In terms of personal performance, Russell had a commendable outing in the recent Hungarian Grand Prix. Despite starting 18th on the grid, he ascended to sixth by the finish line, surpassing Mercedes‘ strategists’ expectations of a probable 11th finish. While Russell was pleased with the result, he also saw it as “proof” that the Hungarian GP was a “missed opportunity”.
“The strategies were telling me this morning P11 is most realistic and P7 if we maximise everything,” Russell remarked after the Hungarian GP. Surpassing those expectations, he said, “To come away P6 with no safety car no VSC on merit was a really great result.” However, this accomplishment also served as a reminder of a potentially better outcome, signaling it as a “missed opportunity.”
Speaking on this point, Russell commented, “I’m confident I could have been up there with Lewis yesterday, this is one of my favourite circuits, the car always performs well here.” He recognised the advantage of having two cars competing for higher spots. His teammate Lewis was in great form, and if circumstances had been slightly different, he could have shared the podium with him.
Summarising the race, Russell reflected, “So as a missed opportunity, we’ll learn from it. But the positives are we’re moving ahead of Aston and Ferrari.”