McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella has denied that the side favoured Lando Norris to manoeuvre him ahead of Oscar Piastri in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The two McLaren cars were running second and third in the opening stint on Sunday, with Piastri ahead of Norris after both had got past Lewis Hamilton on the first lap.

However, Norris was called in for his opening pit stop first and nudged ahead of his team-mate into Turn 1 once Piastri boxed to change tyres the next time around.

Stella, though, has downplayed any suggestions the team intentionally manufactured Norris ahead, citing that the strategy was deployed to protect from a potential undercut by Mercedes.

“In terms of the undercut that we had at the first stop, you just go with the sequence that is natural as you cover with the car that is more at risk, you cover with the other car, Lando’s out lap was just super, super quick, which meant Oscar lost the position,” Stella explained.

“To be honest our approach to this situation is to think about the team first, we think as a team, then we deal with the internal situation.

“I think when you are fighting against other competitors outside your team you need to be very careful that you don’t engage an internal battle that will cost the team.

“I think I mentioned already if we see last year’s race maybe that’s what happened with the red car [Ferrari] and it was very expensive, so we want to stay away from that.”

While Norris advanced on to build a solid gap that maintained his second place to the chequered flag, Piastri struggled for speed beyond the first stint and was overtaken by Hamilton and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 and Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren MCL60 battle for position. 23.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, Hungarian Grand Prix, Budapest, Hungary, Race Day.

But Stella has confirmed that Piastri picked up damage at some stage in the race, which contributed to increased tyre degradation on the rear and his sudden decline in pace.

“In the second stint we saw Lando had a bit more pace but in fairness, we have to mention that Oscar had the damage on his car, and this meant that he lost a few tenths from a performance point of view, but because this was rear downforce this caused extra degradation on the rear tyres, part of the reason he struggled to keep up with Lando but also with the other cars coming behind him,” he revealed.

Stella, who took over the helm at McLaren over the winter, says Piastri was informed about the damage, but it wasn’t acknowledged to viewers during the grand prix because he tries to avoid excuses.

With Norris also encountering excessive tyre degradation issues in the closing laps compared to Hamilton behind, however, Stella contends McLaren must use this race to understand how to manage the rubber more optimally in future rounds.

“Pretty much think that yes we did inform him [Piastri], was busy on the pit wall so maybe I’m confusing what I thought we should say and what we should say, and I think we informed him, in fairness Oscar is a guy that doesn’t look for excuses, not surprised that he might not even mention.

“But it’s there, we think the damage happened actually running wide on a kerb, not necessarily and only when he went wide while battling Perez, so there may be both times that this damage to the car happened, at the same time yes, we also need to look at how the tyres were used, how much of a price did we pay by pushing at the start of the stint in terms of overall degradation throughout the stint.

“If you look at Hamilton approaches he just goes very, very slow at the start and then there is a premium coming back at the end of the stint.

“It’s always difficult from inside the cockpit to understand what impact the early laps of the stint will have towards the end of the stint, so yeah, I think that’s the situation with Oscar.”

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