McLaren admit Mercedes and Red Bull battle ‘surprised’ them as reason for pace explained

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McLaren have even surprised themselves with their pace on the F1 tracks this season, according to the team’s Racing Direction, Andrea Stella. Drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo currently sit fourth and eighth respectively in the drivers’ championship standings, while the team is third in the Constructors’ battle behind leaders Mercedes and Red Bull. 

And the team had a day to remember at last month’s Italian Grand Prix, with Australian Ricciardo landing a first Grand Prix in a McLaren car since Jenson Button took the chequered flag at Interlagos, Brazil, in 2012.

Furthermore, Ricciardo led home a one-two with British teammate Lando Norris second, and it was only late downpours at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi two weeks later that denied the youngster his maiden F1 victory.

Now Stella, who joined McLaren in 2015, admits it’s been a bonus to see his team regularly challenging the perceived dominant forces in F1.

“We were a bit surprised at some races to be able to compete so closely with Mercedes and Red Bull,” Stella told FORMULA1NEWS.

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“For example, the second race in Austria, we were genuinely very close to pole position and genuinely quick in the race.

“Even if in the race normally, Red Bull and Mercedes tend to open up the gap compared to the midfield, that is a trend that we have seen throughout the year.”

Stella, 50, believes the team have utilised their power unit to maximum effect, but also credited team engineers and car designers for allowing Ricciardo and Norris to get the most of their vehicles.

“I think the reason is certainly from last year, we are happy with what we have been able to improve through the power unit. It has been important but we are not the only car running a HPP (Mercedes High Performance Powertrain) power unit.

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“Aston Martin is running a HPP power unit as well so I think this is credit to the development of the chassis that McLaren has been able to achieve, in a way, some operational aspects and I would like to mention also the drivers,” he added.

McLaren has returned to using a Mercedes engine this season for the first time since 2014, after previous deals with Honda and Renault.

And the switch back appears to be paying dividends, least of all for Ricciardo who has now earned himself a special treat this week.

After the opening race of the season in Bahrain, Team CEO Zak Brown did a deal with the 32-year-old, offering him a drive in Dale Earnhardt Sr’s 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo on the basis that he landed a podium for McLaren this season.

After the Monza heroics, Brown has seemingly kept his word, and this weekend Ricciardo will give spectators a demonstration of the blue-and-yellow stock car ahead of the United States Grand Prix.

But while McLaren face a battle with Ferrari to maintain third spot in the Constructors’ standings, it’s Norris, 21, whose chasing an individual top three place.

He now trails Valtteri Bottas, who occupies third spot and won last time out in Turkey, by 18 points.

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