McLaren’s Surprising Advantage Over Mercedes Revealed By Stella

Andrea Stella is confident that McLaren would have still been in contention for a podium finish in Australia, even without Max Verstappen’s retirement, citing their competitive edge over Mercedes.

Lando Norris clinched McLaren’s inaugural podium of the championship, securing third place in his MCL38. He trailed just three seconds behind Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, who finished second.

Verstappen’s premature exit, due to a brake fire shortly after conceding the lead to Carlos Sainz, added an unexpected twist to the race.

Struggling with diminishing performance and losing positions, Verstappen limped towards the pit lane, his rear-right brake ultimately succumbing to an explosion, ending his hopes for a successful Sunday afternoon at Albert Park.

Despite Verstappen’s misfortune, Ferrari capitalized on the opportunity, achieving a remarkable 1-2 finish, with Sainz claiming victory and Norris joining them on the podium in third place.

Stella acknowledges that McLaren’s performance would have kept them in contention even if Verstappen had not retired. He points out that Norris faced a potential challenge from Leclerc during pit stops. However, what surprised Stella was McLaren’s unexpected advantage over Mercedes and Aston Martin.

During the latter stages of the race, McLaren found themselves battling for sixth place, with Norris leading the charge. Fernando Alonso and George Russell, trailing more than a minute behind Norris, were among their closest competitors.

“I think what happened in terms of split of pace between McLaren, Ferrari, I think potentially Verstappen, he already kind of started to complain even at the start of the race, so it looks like today, McLaren and Ferrari could’ve been there with Verstappen,” Stella stated.

“But this split between these cars, and then Aston, Mercedes and everyone else, that does surprise me. Like I was not expecting that.”

He perceives that tire wear contributed to what he described as a race dominated by tire performance.

“Sainz kind of supported the theory that today was a tyre-dominated race,” he continued.

“Because definitely, there was not that much difference in the car between a McLaren and a Mercedes. It is more about dealing with the tyres, because after 10 laps the tyres, if you have less degradation than somebody else, your car could be three, four-tenths fastest just because you have much less degradation.

“So I think it has to do with the anomaly or a very unique tyre behaviour we have in Australia.”

However, according to Stella, there is positive news for McLaren and all of Red Bull’s competitors. He believes that the advantage of the RB20 is not as significant as it was in the initial two races of the season, during which Red Bull secured 1-2 finishes.

He further stated: “The positive news is that this faster car is not faster by much at all. We were very close.

“That I think is encouraging for Japan in which some of the characteristics that make Australia good for us take another step further in having a higher ratio of medium-high-speed [corners] compared to low-speed.”