McLaren must seek “smallest gains” in qualifying to fight for third

2020 F1 season

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McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl says the team must focus on maximising its qualifying pace to stand the best chance of beating their rivals to third place in the constructors championship.

The team are currently tied with Racing Point and just one point behind Renault, who reclaimed third place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Both McLaren’s drivers finished behind one of the team’s key rivals at Imola. Daniel Ricciardo took third for Renault and Sergio Perez sixth for Racing Point ahead of the two MCL35s.

Seidl said McLaren’s slim race pace advantage was effectively neutralised on tracks where overtaking was difficult, leaving their drivers unable to move up the order.

“In the end, it was clear looking at [the] weekend that our race on Sunday was pretty much compromised with the qualifying result,” he said. “Finishing in ninth and 10th, there wasn’t a lot really we could do today.”

Carlos Sainz Jnr made one of the race’s few passes, on team mate Lando Norris, as he rose to take seventh place at the finish.

“We have seen with Carlos that on a track like this, if you’re stuck behind a car then even if I think we had maybe slightly more pace, we simply couldn’t do anything,” said Seidl.

He said McLaren’s weekend had been error-free but the result was the best they could hope for given their starting positions. “That’s why I think, in the end, we still need to be happy with the outcome that we could score 10 points.

“The team and both drivers, in terms of race execution, did a great job. We had good pit stops and the right calls on the strategy side and obviously we benefited from the incidents, which kept us in the fight for the third.”

Of the three teams, McLaren have reached Q3 the most often, qualifying in the top 10 on 24 occasions. Renault have done so 17 times and Racing Point have made 18 appearances in Q3. However for the past five grands prix Norris and Sainz have qualified behind at least one Racing Point or Renault driver, putting them further back in the order.

Seidl said that the team needed to focus on whatever marginal gains could close the gap to Renault – who were two tenths of a second faster in qualifying at Imola – or Racing Point, who were similarly ahead during Q3 at Algarve.

“It is clear we need to use the next one-and-a-half weeks to see, in all areas, how we can find the smallest gains in order to make sure we can keep this battle up,” said Seidl.

“With the team we have, with the car we have and also with our two drivers, we still have it in our hands to keep this fight alive and that’s what we’re focussed on. But as always key is qualifying position on Saturday afternoon because it makes such a big difference how your race goes if you have a free air or if you’re stuck behind another car and that’s what we have to focus on.”

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2020 F1 season

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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5 comments on “McLaren must seek “smallest gains” in qualifying to fight for third”

  1. I’m trying not to be negative here, but it’s a though call beating Renault if you’re using their engine.

    I mean, if the points difference were higher towards McLaren, yes, Renault would push to have MCL win the best of the rest ahead of RP.

    But since Renault is a contender themselves, I can’t be so sure. Does anyone remember when they were fighting with ToroRosso for whatever place back in 2017??? Mexico???

    Help me out here. I remember they said they have run out of parts and therefore Toro Rosso were forced to run their old engines at low settings.

    1. What happened was that Toro Rosso had a number of issues in late 2017, which resulted in some people accusing Renault of trying to sabotage Toro Rosso so they could beat them in the WCC.

      When he was asked about that, Abiteboul defended Renault and suggested that the reason for Toro Rosso having issues was down to the way that the power unit was installed in that car and being used by the team, implying that the team might have been taking more risks with the engine settings to try and beat Renault in the races.

      In response, Tost first claimed that Toro Rosso’s issues were not down to the way the power unit was installed or how they operated it. He then complained that the team were having to use old components – whilst Abiteboul did state that Renault had used some reconditioned parts, Tost suggested it was far more widespread than Abiteboul did – and then, towards the end of his statement, he made a rather strong suggestion that Renault were sabotaging Toro Rosso to beat them in the WCC.

      Now, it seems that Tost might have pushed things a bit too far with those comments, with reports of a rather angry exchange between Abiteboul and Marko in the paddock for the Brazilian GP. Marko then made moves to smooth over Tost’s remarks by insisting that he’d made a few “emotional comments” and downplaying the comments about bias, with Tost, despite a few further grumbles, behaving more circumspectly afterwards.

      1. Thks. For some reason I tend to go with Tost and TR. They’re the customer. McLaren had been in that position with Mercedes in the past and Dennis wasn’t a fan.
        I believe they know a thing or two about “little variations” between units.

  2. It’s obvious: the smallest gains bring the largest benefits. ?????????

  3. With all the development tokens for next year going on the engine change, they have to do car developments now in the middle of the tightest endings possible with new nose concepts and whatnot, which is quite aggressive and brave.

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