McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella asserts Max Verstappen’s qualifying advantage in Japan showcases the challenge the side has ahead to catch Red Bull.

McLaren began the year on the backfoot after admitting it had missed vital development targets with its MCL60 but has rebounded since building on a revised car introduced at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Further new parts in Singapore enabled Lando Norris to return to the podium, with the Woking squad anticipating a stronger run still at the high-speed Suzuka circuit.

While McLaren fended off the threat from Ferrari and Mercedes to secure second and third for Sunday’s race, the papaya team wound up six-tenths shy of Verstappen.

The reigning World Champion comfortably topped all three practice sessions in Japan before thrashing the competition in qualifying to take an emphatic pole.

Stella professed the enormity of Red Bull’s single-lap advantage had put into perspective the progress McLaren must make to compete with the Austrian outfit.

“We expected to be more competitive than Singapore,” Stella relayed on Saturday.

“We were unsure as to whether this would have put us as second best team, or whether Mercedes and Ferrari would have been there with us.

“We were pretty certain that Red Bull would have been the quickest car here, considering the track layout.

“If you look at the overlays, Verstappen gains in every kind of speed range, so it’s quite remarkable. It gives us again the measure about how much work we have ahead of us.”

Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren MCL60. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day.

Stella conceded that he had expected McLaren to end up slightly closer in qualifying to Red Bull, arguing that the colossal deficit has somewhat humbled the team.

“In fairness, I would have expected to be a little closer,” he admitted. “We are P2, P3, it’s a good result for the team, but six-tenths is a significant amount of work that we still have to do.

“In a way it puts us with the feet back on the ground, not that we have ever taken off at all, but quantitatively there’s a lot of aerodynamic performance that we need to add on the car still.”

Despite Norris expressing that McLaren had improved its slow-speed cornering performance in Singapore, Stella contends Suzuka’s slower-speed sections demonstrated it remains a weak area.

“Both corners are poor. And we see in the GPS overlays we lose time compared to compared to many direct competitors,” he explained.

“We lose time through the mechanisms that we know we have to improve, so there was no positive surprise.”

Although Stella anticipated the team being “in competition with Ferrari and Mercedes”, both McLaren cars converted their promising starting berths to score the team’s first double podium in two years.

Norris scooped his fourth second-place finish of the campaign, while Oscar Piastri achieved his maiden podium by coming home third behind his team-mate.

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