McLaren predicts ‘strong’ Qatar GP

McLaren is predicting a strong weekend at the Qatar Grand Prix. Image: Coates/XPB Images

McLaren is predicting a strong weekend at the Qatar Grand Prix. Image: Coates/XPB Images

Andrea Stella has suggested the upgraded McLaren MCL60 will be well suited to the Lusail circuit at this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix.

McLaren heads to Qatar off the back of its best performance since the 2021 Italian Grand Prix after picking up a double-podium in Suzuka two weekends ago.

Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri proved the strongest challengers to Max Verstappen and Red Bull throughout the weekend in Japan with the latter recording his first F1 front-row start, converting that into third place.

That performance came off the back of McLaren introducing another round of upgrades for the Singapore Grand Prix, which offered their full impact around the fast Suzuka circuit.

With Lusail also featuring predominantly medium- and high-speed corners, team principal Stella is optimistic.

“There’s a variability of tracks left in the season, but none of these tracks has the Singapore characteristics,” he reasoned when asked if McLaren can catch Red Bull this year.

“So while there could be some tracks in which we could be competitive – I think Qatar could be a decent track for us – I’m afraid that the characteristics we like, they are also the characteristics where Red Bull will be just outstanding.

“So we’ll  have to be realistic that we need some situations, let’s say, to happen to be able to make the final step.”

McLaren sits fifth in the constructors’ championship but on current form is quickly closing in on Aston Martin, which has faded after its impressive start to the season.

Key to that transformation was the upgrade introduced in Austria, which added medium-speed performance to the car and addressed tyre degradation issues.

Slow-speed remains a weakness, however, and one that is likely to remain for the balance of 2023.

“Both corners are poor,” Stella said over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend in reference to the hairpin and Casino Triangle chicane – areas he suspected the MCL60 would be found wanting.

“We see in our GPS overlays we lose time compared to many direct competitors, and we lose time through the mechanisms that we know we have to improve.”

Encouraging for McLaren is that Lusail features just one low-speed corner, the hairpin at Turn 6.

However, the United States Grand Prix offers a potentially sterner challenge, with a sharp left-hander to start the lap, another midway around, and a twisty section in the final third.

Mexico City too has a slow final complex among other low-speed content, while the infield at Interlagos is also unlikely to especially favour McLaren.

From there, the circus heads to Las Vegas, an unknown for all teams, before concluding in Abu Dhabi where modifications in recent years have reduced the number of low-speed corners in Yas Marina.

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