McLaren explain why soft tyres for sprint race looked like a gamble worth taking

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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McLaren justified their attempt to complete yesterday’s sprint race with a set of soft tyres on Lando Norris’ car, despite its failure to pay off.

While the majority of drivers selected the medium tyre compound for yesterday’s 17-lap contest, Norris ran a set of the soft tyres. It paid off initially, and he gained a place from Lance Stroll, but his lap times rose quickly as he suffered from graining soon after the Safety Car restart and had to pit.

Team principal Andrea Stella said the soft tyre appeared to offer the best hope of getting Norris, who started 10th, past any of the cars ahead of him.

“We know that we had eight quicker cars ahead of us and points are given from P1 to P8,” he told media including RaceFans. “So we needed to do something in order to score points. That’s the first point of view.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix sprint race in pictures
“In all honesty, we didn’t [expect] the soft to behave like that. We thought that they would degrade, but we didn’t think they would grain so heavily. So this is something that manifested itself during the sprint and it was beyond our expectation.”

McLaren covered themselves each way by splitting their strategies between Norris and team mate Oscar Piastri, who lined up behind him in 11th place.

“We had one car on soft, one car on medium. So we thought we can split the risk because if we have a very eventful sprint with a Safety Car, Virtual Safety Cars and so on, there might be an advantage in being on the soft. But if it’s high degradation on the soft, we have the other car on medium. So I think you have to see this also from a team point of view where you cover all the options.”

Stella said the decision to run Norris on softs was also motivated by a need to gather data for today’s grand prix. “It was important for us to learn a little bit for tomorrow because with the new format – which is exciting, you are always competing for something – we lost what was the P2 in the past in which you could do a long run.

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“So you would have learned these things on Saturday morning, which you can’t [now]. It was also important for us to understand the degradation on the soft and now we have this bit of information.

“I think overall while, yes, now I would do the sprint on medium, there was quite a lot to look at from a team point of view and also in terms of learning for tomorrow.”

Norris also defended the team’s aggressive strategy call. “We knew it was a little bit of a gamble,” he said. “We didn’t go in and just think ‘oh, it’s the biggest gamble ever’. We thought it would not be a bad thing to do, have a better launch, a better first couple of laps, try to get into a good position knowing that there’s a good chance there could be some safety cars and VSCs and things, and being on a softer tyre at that point might not be too bad.

“I think everyone who did do the soft, or made a similar mistake, everyone struggled a lot with the degradation. So it was definitely a lot more than we thought. I guess it’s one of the challenges with this structure of weekend, not getting to do any long running on the softs.

“But we also maybe just didn’t do the best job of trying to understand it and things. It’s tough when you haven’t run it until then more than three laps. So it’s not purely a gamble but just what we thought was best and obviously wasn’t.”

However he admitted the soft compound is “a tyre I’ll probably stay away from” in today’s grand prix.

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2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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2 comments on “McLaren explain why soft tyres for sprint race looked like a gamble worth taking”

  1. I think most teams are really happy we got 3 cars doing most of the sprint on softs to give some clues to wear on them. The Medium tyres also started suffering quite early on though.

    1. Yes, I noticed the medium was suffering as well later on the sprint, and I think I agree with mclaren, if you have nothing to lose and there’s no telling the soft is gonna be that bad, makes sense to give it a try with 1 car, perhaps the one that is further behind and hence has less chances to score with mediums, and since their pace would’ve naturally led them outside the points and the sprint is now a standalone, it was a gamble worth making; I also like that they find this stuff out in the sprint and then use this info for the race rather than learning this stuff in practice and then knowing everything already by the time the race starts.

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