McLaren left the Bahrain Grand Prix with more optimism than it predicted after exceeding its own expectations despite one car retiring and the other needing six pit stops.
Oscar Piastri was the first retirement of the race with an electrical issue and then Lando Norris had to make six stops due to a pneumatic pressure leak that required the team to top up the system every ten laps. Despite the poor result, McLaren had already been warning fans of a tough start to the season and with Norris qualifying 11th and showing some good race pace new team principal Andrea Stella was pleasantly surprised.
“I think the most positive element is without issues Lando would have been a strong contender for points, the pace of the car in the race was almost beyond expectation,” Stella said.
“I think in the race we also saw some reward of the work we did over the winter in trying to improve the interaction between the car and the tires. This was certainly a strong position on Lando’s side but also Oscar actually was having good degradation in the first stint, he overtook cars.
“It was a very tight race, so we could have been in the points with two cars – that’s the most positive outcome of this event.”
And Stella believes McLaren is closer to the likes of Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari than pre-season testing showed, and can make clear progress in the midfield as it brings new parts to the car.
“The race was more encouraging than I would have expected. Before coming here I thought Q3 was difficult, and points would have been difficult, but they were up for grasp more than I thought.
“The other element though we have to acknowledge is the midfield, not only the midfield, but even racing close – apart from Red Bull – close to Aston, Mercedes and even Ferrari. Like without the Virtual Safety Car I’m not sure there would have been people one lap down without issues.
“So I think if we race well, and can improve the car by a few tenths like we plan to do, we can have some enjoyable races soon hopefully.”
The new parts should start to appear in the coming races, although Stella warns the biggest step is currently planned for round four in Azerbaijan.
“There’s some minor upgrades that will come already in Saudi and Australia, so little things already for the next couple of races. They’re not necessarily very noticeable, but should add some performance here and there, and then there will be the first of the major upgrades in Baku.”