Following the close finish of Norris and team-mate Oscar Piastri behind race winner Max Verstappen at the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix of 2023 in Suzuka, Norris took to the team radio to announce, “Double podium. We are coming for Red Bull.” His assertive declaration made waves and signified a rising confidence within the McLaren camp.
Meanwhile, McLaren‘s team principal Andrea Stella adopted a more measured tone. Despite the success at the Japanese GP and the steady progress throughout the year, Stella remains conscious of the challenges that lie ahead. He acknowledges Red Bull‘s dominance, especially with Verstappen’s exceptional driving which to him seems unreachable in terms of pace.
Stella candidly expressed his viewpoint in an interview with F1 Initiative. He admitted that Red Bull is currently, “Still a step too far.” His assessment about Verstappen was, “Max is one step too far.” He reasoning was based on the variability of tracks that await in the rest of the season.
Stella revealed his expectations about the season’s future races. “While there could be some tracks in which we could be competitive – I think Qatar should be a decent track for us – I’m afraid that the characteristics we like, they are also the characteristics where Red Bull will be just outstanding.” Nonetheless, Stella is aware of the need for pragmatism, acknowledging certain situations beyond control will be necessary to bridge the gap with Red Bull.
McLaren‘s progressive 2023 season in Formula 1 marked a remarkable turnaround from its previous performances, as a result of an effective programme of upgrades. It has now emerged as a credible threat to Red Bull. However, Stella is mindful of the volatile nature of F1, drawing learning lessons from Aston Martin‘s ongoing struggles. The latter started off the season on a high but now faces an arduous task to retain points.
Stella candidly admitted about being “Very mindful. Very, very mindful” about how sudden stagnation in progress can be in F1. He underscored the need for thoroughness and methodical approach in development to maintain the momentum. He believed sight must not be lost of the fact that “the pace of development is already fast”, emphasizing the importance of continued progress.
Stella concluded by stating, “Then we’ll see, once we are in Bahrain next year, who’s been able to develop faster.” He further drew attention to Aston Martin’s big strides over the winter, and McLaren‘s speed of progress over the current season, reminding all of the unpredictable nature of F1 racing.