Why McLaren tell their drivers to “challenge us” over team orders on radio

Formula 1

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Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris brought home a valuable two-three result for McLaren in the Qatar Grand Prix.

But there was some dissent on their radios at the end of the race, as Norris indicated his dissatisfaction at being instructed to finish behind his rookie team mate.

Norris spent the opening laps in sixth while Piastri got up to second. McLaren wanted Piastri to push early on, fearing he would be ‘undercut’ by rivals who pitted before him. He eventually finished 4.8 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen, with Norris a further 1.1s behind him after spending 24 of the race’s 57 laps tailing his team mate.

McLaren instructed their drivers not to fight for position once it became clear a double podium finish was theirs to lose. Norris was initially unhappy about this message due to feeling he had stronger pace in clear air, something he had pointed out earlier in the race:

Lap: 13/57 NOR: 1’32.790, PIA: 1’54.427
NorrisThe pace is clearly much better in clean air.
Lap: 14/57 NOR: 1’52.778, PIA: 1’30.272
NorrisIt’s clear the pace is strong. So let’s really try to make sure we use that, to a certain extent.

But he spent little disputing the order as the tiring conditions of the race meant drivers kept radio chatter to a minimum.

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Lap: 45/57 NOR: 1’48.429, PIA: 1’25.353
JosephLando, we’re going to hold position. Bring it home.StallardLando leaving pit lane ahead, he should be two seconds behind. Alonso behind pitted.
Lap: 46/57 NOR: 1’24.881, PIA: 1’25.334
NorrisWhy do you want to do that? We have a big gap.StallardOkay Oscar it’s 12 laps to go from here. Team instruction is to hold position to the end of the race. So no risk on the kerbs or track limits.
StallardRussell ahead will have to pit again. He will go on to a soft. So could be a risk at the end.
Lap: 47/57 NOR: 1’24.842, PIA: 1’25.236
JosephLando, we see that, and we know that. It doesn’t matter. We’re worried a little bit about Russell. Gap 13.4 ahead. We think he might put a soft on towards the end of the race and be quick.
NorrisExactly. You’re worried, so…
Lap: 48/57 NOR: 1’25.062, PIA: 1’24.921
JosephSuggest. Red A8, red A8.
Lap: 49/57 NOR: 1’25.146, PIA: 1’25.098
NorrisToo much dirty air.
Lap: 50/57 NOR: 1’25.384, PIA: 1’25.340
JosephUnderstood. Suggest yellow G2, yellow G2.

Norris has benefited from the team’s strategy calls at the expense of his team mate on other occasions earlier this year. After the last race, team principal Andrea Stella said the strategy decision ensured they delivered a podium having missed one at the same track two years earlier.

“The drivers have been very close all weekend, within the space of a couple of tenths all weekend,” he said. “And even today, they were again very close.”

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“It’s a mega result for McLaren. Lando progressed from P10 to the podium and we are in a place in which we don’t have to forget that in 2021 Lando was P4, and a few laps to go he had the tyre failure and he finished P9. So you just don’t want to take this risk.

“You don’t want to induce your drivers to push and then have a track limit penalty, or as soon as you tell them to push they use the kerbs because it makes the track so much faster. So we just implemented ‘stay away from kerbs and think about bringing it home’, and both drivers understood it very well.”

Although Norris challenged the decision, he accepted it. “Lando was very happy on the in-lap, he was very complimentary with the team. It’s a point of strength that our drivers help us manage this situation so proactively and constructively.”

Stella said the team encourage its drivers to question their calls when they impose an order on their drivers.

“In terms of the message you heard, this is part of our protocol, I would say, because when we give drivers an instruction, we tell them ‘challenge us’ because we want to make sure we understand your point of view,” explained Stella.

“Challenge us, tell us exactly what you think. We will reassess the situation and come back to you. But once we come back to you, just respect it. And this is exactly what happened today. So that’s why you hear back. We ask drivers to challenge us.”

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2023 Qatar Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
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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8 comments on “Why McLaren tell their drivers to “challenge us” over team orders on radio”

  1. That’s some Ron-speak level stuff right there. Dennis would be proud.

  2. That is great promoting speak up culture and challenging the status quo.

    This should be happening everywhere as long as it’s done in a respectful and thoughtful manner.

  3. I have a lot of sympathy for teams when they give the “hold positions” order because they want to get both cars on the podium, but in that situation, the second driver will always complain, and it always seems to promote a lot of annoyance among fans who often see it as favouritism rather than pragmatism. Most teams have done it though at some time or other.

    1. 1-2s are a different matter…

  4. I like this too by mclaren, I don’t think many other teams ask drivers to challenge team orders.

    1. His comments made it clear he meant challenge the engineers as in to clarify their communications and orders, not to challenge team orders. So, there’s really nothing new or special here.

  5. I got the impression Zak Brown was not there for the race….but he always seems to say no team orders……as it should be

Comments are closed.