Lando Norris, McLaren, Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023

McLaren’s focus on car performance led to tactical error in qualifying

Formula 1

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McLaren say they got their qualifying tactics wrong because they were preoccupied with trying to improve their car’s performance in practice.

The MCL60 proved ill-suited to the Las Vegas Strip Circuit but the team believes it still should have avoided its double Q1 elimination.

Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri qualified 16th and 19th respectively, though both will gain a position each due to Lance Stroll’s penalty. Both felt the team made a mistake by using a single set of soft tyres for each car during Q1 instead of fitting fresh rubber.

“Would we have got through with another set? I think so,” said Norris. “So I guess that’s probably the most painful part of it.

“At the same time, it’s not been an easy weekend at all so I wouldn’t say it was a guarantee we would have got through to Q3. I think we’ve we’ve been a little bit up-and-down and stuff like that.

“We’ve struggled quite a bit with consistency, not confidence so much, just consistency in the car and the ability to kind of take steps forward every time you go out. So it just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.”

Piastri agreed that “maybe using one set of tyres wasn’t the right decision,” but said the team’s experience from practice suggested using a single set was possible.

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“From practice and even during the session there was nothing to really indicate that putting a second set on was going to be the best way forward. So that was one element. I think we damaged the tyres quite a lot, which we didn’t really see in practice earlier, either

“Timing is the name of the game this weekend. I think we’ve seen across a lot of teams, some teams are making it work, some aren’t and it’s just not really worked for us that much this weekend.”

Although both drivers ended the first night of practice in the bottom half of the field, Piastri believes “the pace in the car was honestly not bad.”

“I think if we had have gone through then we had the potential to be in Q3 and perform decently,” he continued. “So I don’t think it’s that the car is a complete disaster, it’s just that know the circumstances didn’t really work out for us today. And maybe there was a few things that we could have done better.”

Team principal Andrea Stella said the team were “on the back foot” in the weekend “because we were very focussed on trying to squeeze some performance out of the car.” They managed to make improvements and “finally actually added some performance.”

“But we haven’t done enough work – because of being on the back foot – in understanding how you should actually use the tyres for qualifying,” Stella admitted.

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“We saw that it was difficult to do the first lap [time] because the tyres were not ready. So the second was better.

“In [final practice] we saw with Oscar that actually the third lap was faster than he was on a fourth lap in which he was as fast as the third. So we kind of convinced ourselves that the tyres could have repeated the lap time and that was the ‘plan A’ into Q1.”

The team reconsidered its tactics during the session, but the drivers were content to remain on their original tyres, which proved a mis-step.

“In reality, we were considering also to pit for a second set, but at the time we checked with the drivers, they were both happy that the tyres were in good condition and therefore we could have stayed on the same.

“At the time we opened the third lap, we kind of realised that the tyres were going off, but then it was too late to pit. In fairness, I have to say that pitting and going even for the first lap potentially would have been enough.

“So I would say the main reason why we were knocked out in Q1 definitely is not car performance because thanks to the work done [since second practice] the performance has improved, but the choices in terms of how to use the tyres in Q1 and the execution of the plan wasn’t ideal. So plenty to review for us from an operational point of view.”

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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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