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'It is Max Verstappen': McLaren boss downplays Imola victory chance

‘It is Max Verstappen’: McLaren boss downplays Imola victory chance

McLaren Team Principal praises Norris's performance while acknowledging the teams missed opportunities

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Despite the 24-year-old Brit’s strong performance, Team Principal Andrea Stella is uncertain if Lando Norris could have passed Max Verstappen to win in Imola with more laps.

'It is Max Verstappen': McLaren boss downplays Imola victory chance
Norris (left) started the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix alongside polesitter Verstappen (right) on the front row (Image Credit: @F1 on X)

Initially, Norris faced challenges keeping up with Verstappen on medium tyres. McLaren opted for a one-stop strategy, pitting for Hard compound tyres in the search for an edge over the Red Bull driver.

The final 15 laps saw Norris steadily close in on Verstappen, nearly reaching striking distance. However, he narrowly missed the opportunity to engage DRS as they approached the final lap. 

As the race concluded, the Miami race winner found himself just 0.725 seconds behind the Dutchman. Trying hard to hide his disappointment, Norris made it clear that a move seemed within reach if he had just had ‘one or two more laps.’

Chance would be a fine thing

As reported by news outlet Autosport, Stella shared a different outlook on today’s result. In his post-race interview, the Italian engineer chose to take an analytical approach to the race, providing insight as to why he thought overtaking at the circuit as well as Verstappen’s raw talent would have made it difficult even if more laps were left in the race.

“Well, 63 laps is already many laps,’ stated the 53-year-old post-race. 

“Many times, you say you would like one lap more.

“It is what it is, and also, it is Max Verstappen; I am sure he was a bit in trouble, but he managed to get the most out of what he had, so well done, Max and well done to our two drivers, second and fourth.”

Credit is given where due
Norris celebrates a fourth podium of the 2024 season (Image Credit: @McLarenF1 on X)

Whilst acknowledging Norris’s excellent performance, Stella was quick to analyse the day’s events, taking a very tactile approach despite the success found. 

“We actually lost too much time in the first stint behind Max, but we had too much rear degradation, and we thought actually today was about watching the mirrors than watching ahead of us.”

From the beginning, the team had concerns that Norris might face pressure from Charles Leclerc, who found himself engaged in a battle for third place with McLaren’s second driver, 23-year-old Oscar Piastri. 

“After a period on the hard tyres in which we saved the tyres while Leclerc and Oscar [Piastri] were fighting each other, I think this initial investment paid dividends towards the end of the race for Lando.”

Race Maturity

Stella emphasised that Norris’s exceptional tyre management in the race’s latter half allowed him to challenge Verstappen towards the end, heavily influencing today’s impressive performance and helping secure his second podium of the 2024 season.

“Managing the budget of the tyres was an important factor, and we have to say from this point of view, Lando has become a bit of a master.

“Oscar paid for some issues we had yesterday in qualifying. Otherwise, he would’ve been on the podium as well. We take this positive and we look forward with some optimism now.”

The gap between McLaren and Red Bull has certainly closed significantly in the last couple of races. Hopes are high for another close battle at the next Grand Prix in Monaco, commencing Sunday May 26 at 14:00 BST (15:00 local time).

Feature Image Credit: AP

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