Lap 17 of the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix witnessed a strategic move by McLaren that sparked curiosity among Formula 1 fans. The team decided to bring in Lando Norris for a pit stop before his teammate, Oscar Piastri, and the decision had consequences that raised questions about potential preferential treatment within the team.
As Norris entered the pit lane, Piastri followed suit on the next lap. However, when the dust settled after the pit stops, Piastri found himself behind his teammate, leaving fans wondering if McLaren was employing a hidden team management strategy to favour Norris.
In response to these speculations, McLaren boss Zak Brown firmly denied any such favouritism, asserting that the decision was based on the best strategy for the team and was not aimed at giving one driver an advantage over the other. Brown clarified that the pit stop order was primarily determined by Hamilton,
“It was purely about the best strategy for the team, based on what we thought Lewis [Hamilton] would do.” confirms the American team CEO.
Team boss explains why Piastri lost out to Norris
The situation unfolded as Hamilton posed a threat to Norris, having entered the DRS (Drag Reduction System) zone behind him. This prompted McLaren to react quickly to avoid any potential undercut by Hamilton. The decision to bring in Norris first was based on a natural sequence, ensuring the best chances to defend against Hamilton’s undercut.
“You just use the natural sequence and cover with the car that is more exposed to risk, only then with the other,” said McLaren’s team principal, Andrea Stella.
But what was more decisive was Norris’ “incredibly fast” out-lap, explains Stella. “That then led to Oscar losing the position.” despite the team giving Piastri an incredibly fast 2-second pitstop.
There was no holding back on those emotions for @LewisHamilton 💜
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Stella justifies Norris favouritism over Piastri
Stella then elaborated on the decision, explaining that they prioritise the team’s best interests over internal duels between drivers. The goal is to avoid any situation that might harm the team’s overall performance and competitiveness against external opponents.
“When making decisions like this, we put the team first. We think as a team. And only then do we tackle the internal situation secondarily.”
“When you’re dealing with other opponents outside of the team, you have to be very careful that you don’t get bogged down in an internal duel that could harm the entire team. We want to avoid that,” says Stella, justifying the favouritism toward Norris.
Stella highlighted the impressive out-lap executed by Norris after his pit stop, which played a pivotal role in him retaining his position ahead of Piastri. While the pit stop duration was slightly shorter for Piastri, it was Norris’ quick out-lap that made the difference.
How Piastri reacted to the pit stop order
After the race, Piastri was content with his fifth-place finish but acknowledged that increased tire wear proved challenging during the second and third stints. The Australian driver recognised the importance of protecting the tyres better and learning from the experience to improve his performance in future races.
Indeed during the interview post race, Piastri admitted that the team had “not yet been explained to him,” he said immediately after the race in Hungary.
“I guess the undercut turned out to be a lot bigger than expected.”
“I finished 30 seconds behind him, so it didn’t make much of a difference. I just didn’t have the pace to keep up with Lando or even attack him.” conceded the Australian rookie.
Piastri’s McLaren suffered damage
But why wasn’t Piastri able to keep up with the McLaren sister car after the first stint? Team boss Brown points to “a little” damage to Piastri’s MCL60, which ultimately led to Hamilton getting past.
Team boss Stella confirms this, saying that Piastri overshot the kerbs and the underbody of the car suffered as a result.
“It was about the downforce on the rear axle, the power went down a bit and the tyre wear was a bit higher,” he explains. “That was one of the reasons why Oscar couldn’t keep up with Lando and it helped other cars to catch up.”
Piastri high tyre wear
The Australian driver also conceded that he felt the tyre wear on his McLaren was a ‘killer’ for his chances in the race, having only narrowly beaten a charging George Russell in his Mercedes.
“The first stint was good, the second and third were pretty average. I just lacked pace and had problems with the tyres,” explained Piastri. “That’s why I’m happy with P5, because at times it looked like I was going to fall even further behind”.
And it was close at the finish, Piastri crossed the line just 3.253 seconds ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell.
“We have to look at that,” says Piastri.
“It’s one of the first races where I’ve had so much tire wear, with multiple pit stops and things like that, so there’s a lot to learn there.”
Piatri: Lessons’ learned in Hungary
McLaren’s performance in Hungary showcased the positive impact of recent technical updates made to their car. Piastri attributed the team’s competitiveness against Red Bull to these innovations, indicating that without them, they might have struggled to keep up.
“The car can do more. Lando has shown that we can stay up front even in hot weather. So I have to see what I can do better to protect the tires better.” said Piastri,
“Unfortunately, you don’t learn that in training or testing. You have to learn it the hard way in the races. And of course, I want to improve as quickly as possible because there are trophies waiting for us if we do everything right.”
“With the old car we would probably have finished a lap behind. So it was a really positive weekend for the team.” explains the Australian rookie.
Overall, while the pit stop strategy raised some questions, McLaren’s team leadership and drivers maintain that their decisions are based on optimising team performance and competitiveness against Mercedes.
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