It’s both stimulating and challenging to keep a Grand Prix interesting when the outcome seems predetermined. McLaren has taken on this role, and after providing Oscar Piastri with the same update package given to Lando Norris in Singapore, they established themselves as the second-strongest team in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Any utopian attempts to win the race faded at the start when Max Verstappen, not without effort, maintained his first position, which he comfortably held until lap 53 when the checkered flag was waved. There was almost a twenty-second gap between Max, who secured Red Bull’s sixth Constructors’ title, and Lando Norris. Even more significant was the difference in fastest lap times, with over a second separating the Dutchman from the Briton.
The numbers are clear, and they speak louder than any sports commentary. Today, no one could challenge Max Verstappen. This has been the case for 15 out of 16 races. Yet, McLaren can’t help but be overjoyed. Besides achieving their first double podium of the season, they also marked Oscar Piastri’s first top-three finish, excluding the one in the Spielberg sprint race. What’s even more important is that on a completely different track from Marina Bay, the MCL60 proved its high performance level by effortlessly surpassing Ferrari, Mercedes, and even putting Aston Martin in their crosshairs in the championship standings.
McLaren: Satisfaction for Piastri and Norris
The McLaren drivers didn’t hide their delight in securing a double podium finish in the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit, a feat that had eluded them for a long time. “It’s a fantastic day for us; we secured second and third places, and we couldn’t have done better,” Norris explained in an interview with the exceptional Damon Hill. “The team did a fantastic job. I had a good start, and I almost managed to outsmart Max. But Max is Max, and I already knew that my chances in Turn 2 were slim.”
“Today, our pace was strong compared to everyone else. It wasn’t on par with Red Bull, but it wasn’t too far off either. I’m very happy for Oscar and his first F1 podium. We are pushing, and we are getting there. The progress we make weekend after weekend is remarkable. There will be more tough moments, but step by step, we are reaching new heights,” the Bristol-born driver concluded.
Oscar Piastri, despite his initial enthusiasm upon exiting his car, appeared somewhat disappointed in the back of the podium. In fact, after the Virtual Safety Car, he had a taste of finishing in second place, but Norris’ pace in the final part of the race was simply unreachable for the young Australian who continues to gradually progress in his journey. “It’s truly a special feeling to be on the podium. I will remember it for a long time. I can’t thank the team enough for the work they’ve done and for allowing me to fulfill my dream. Not many people can achieve that, especially in their first season.”
“It wasn’t my best race ever, but it was enough to bring home a trophy, so I’m very happy. On-track duels? There was the overtake on George. I knew I had to get past him quickly, or I would have been stuck. It was a borderline move, but the pace was very good after that moment. In the second half of the race, I found the right rhythm and feelings. I’m very pleased, and now I can’t wait to secure more podiums.”
McLaren: A Lesson for Ferrari and Mercedes
McLaren is increasingly establishing itself as the benchmark for those teams aiming to challenge Red Bull. The MCL60 was a car that started the season in a poor state but made tremendous progress throughout the year. The updates introduced in Austria bore great fruit, and at some point, it seemed like they were no longer as effective, especially on certain tracks.
The engineers in Woking, with remarkable adaptability, presented another update, the one installed in Marina Bay, which effectively positioned the English car as the second-strongest on the grid. Looking back, it’s evident that despite financial constraints and restrictive technical regulations, the car made a substantial leap forward.
In 2024, McLaren, unlike this season, will have a solid foundation to continue closing the gap with Red Bull. There’s a lot of talk about who might challenge Milton Keynes in the coming year. Some say Ferrari, others argue it could be Mercedes, while some suggest Aston Martin may unleash its potential in the near future.
However, the trajectory followed by the historic English team suggests that Woking could be the one to upset the reigning six-time world champions next year. Ambition and expertise are not lacking at McLaren, which, for some weeks now, can also count on a new wind tunnel where they are already working on the model for next year. This could be a game-changer, and that’s the hope of Andrea Stella and Zak Brown.
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica