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McLaren’s Missed Chance: Strategic Errors Cost Potential British GP Victory

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McLaren falls short in the Formula 1 championship battle, squandering a 1-2 lead at the British GP

During the 2024 Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, McLaren missed a golden chance, slipping from a dominant 1-2 position to ending the race in 3rd and 4th places.

McLaren's persistent failure to secure wins in Formula 1 races, despite having a competitive car, appears to be a recurring theme in 2024. Although Lando Norris has frequently been criticized for missed chances and critical errors, both McLaren drivers were largely without fault at the British Grand Prix.

The MCL38 lacked the sheer speed seen in the Mercedes W15 when conditions were dry, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton taking command in the initial phases, establishing a lead of three seconds ahead of Max Verstappen. As the race progressed, the McLaren's performance improved, a common occurrence in 2024, especially as the track conditions deteriorated with the onset of rain.

During the 15th lap, Norris overtook Verstappen, who didn't display the aggressive defense he had in Austria. Shortly afterward, on lap 17, Oscar Piastri demonstrated McLaren's increasing dominance by easily passing Verstappen at Stowe.

At this stage in the competition, the teams were considering transitioning to intermediate tires since the lap times were dropping significantly. The deteriorating weather altered the dynamics of the lead in the grand prix, with Hamilton overtaking Russell for the top position on Lap 18.

Shortly after, the two Mercedes racers veered off at the first turn, but Norris managed to remain on the circuit, overtaking Russell in the initial set of bends. It quickly became clear that the McLaren was performing exceptionally well under the varying weather conditions, with Norris moving into the lead just a lap afterward, overtaking Hamilton.

By Lap 20, Piastri had moved up to secure the second spot behind his teammate, ensuring a McLaren one-two as they both navigated the increasingly slippery circuit on dry tyres. However, as the rain intensified, McLaren was faced with a crucial choice to make.

McLaren's Initial Error

As Piastri trailed Norris by less than a second in the lead, McLaren faced a crucial choice. They had to decide whether to have Piastri wait behind his teammate, costing him a few seconds, or to keep him on the track for another lap on dry tyres under conditions that were essentially suited for intermediates.

Verstappen made a spot-on decision, halting his race on the conclusion of the 26th lap, with Norris and Hamilton pitting right after him a lap on (Mercedes chose to pit Russell at the same time, causing him to wait behind Hamilton). Piastri, in a misstep, remained on the track.

As Piastri came to a halt at the conclusion of Lap 28, he had forfeited almost the equivalent of a full pit stop's time (20 seconds). This caused Piastri to fall from his second-place position. Although stacking behind his teammate might have resulted in him falling behind Hamilton and potentially Verstappen, it could have preserved McLaren's opportunity to contend for a first and second place finish.

McLaren chief Andrea Stella acknowledged the error, pledging to take lessons from the incident.

"He [Piastri] needed to be more aggressive, and we also needed to insist more on executing a double stack pit stop. By postponing Oscar's pit stop by a single lap, we ended up losing significantly more time than what we would have lost with a double stack," he explained following the race at Silverstone, where Crash.net is on-site in the paddock.

"Looking back, it was indeed wise to halt both vehicles simultaneously. We've gained valuable insights from this incident, and we're committed to improving in the future."

McLaren's Second Blunder

As the rain ceased, focus quickly shifted towards the optimal moment for transitioning to slick tyres. Conversations intercepted on the team's radio indicated that McLaren was deliberating over the choice of tyre compound for when the conditions became suitable.

For Piastri, the situation was unmistakably clear.

"Race vehicles lack a middle ground. At the moment, we believe this is the correct tire, with 15 laps remaining," was the information relayed to Piastri.

He quickly responded, "Absolutely, it's the top choice."

McLaren held a strategic edge over competitors due to possessing an extra new set of medium tyres, the preferred option for the race, unlike Mercedes and Red Bull who were left to choose between soft and hard tyres. Hamilton posed the most significant challenge to Norris, opting to pit just one lap earlier than him at the conclusion of Lap 38, a tactic Verstappen also employed.

Considering Norris was ahead in the race by a few seconds, it's hard to question McLaren's decision to switch to slick tires when they did. However, the selection of the tire compound raised eyebrows, not least from Red Bull's team principal, Christian Horner. Seeing Hamilton opt for soft tires, McLaren chose to do the same.

Hamilton and Norris opted for soft tires, while Verstappen chose hard ones, and Piastri went with mediums. It soon became clear that the harder tire options were performing better, evidenced by Verstappen and Piastri setting the quickest lap times in succession.

By the 48th lap, Verstappen overtook Norris, who was having difficulties with his soft tyres, advancing into second place. Hamilton, despite being slower than Verstappen and Piastri, showcased his exceptional skill in tyre management, proving why he remains among the top drivers.

Piastri showcased remarkable speed on the medium tires, outpacing Hamilton and matching Verstappen's performance. Throughout the last segment of the race, Norris lagged behind Piastri by an average of 0.7 seconds, indicating that, had Piastri opted for medium tires during his last pit stop, he would have probably surpassed Hamilton for the victory at Silverstone.

Is Norris at fault?

Hesitation in team communication and McLaren's lack of clear guidance on the superior tire compound were key factors in their downfall.

Norris commented that Hamilton was coming into the pit, stating: "We have to make a pit stop; the soft tire is the better choice now… any type of dry tire."

His racing strategist responded, "We have the option to go with mediums to offset drivers like Verstappen (who's on hard tyres), or we could opt for softs to compete against racers such as Hamilton."

Norris mentioned, "Do you believe Hamilton is the choice, or perhaps someone of a medium level? I'm open to either."

The engineer commented, "We're switching to softs."

In this scenario, McLaren's strategy should have involved opting for the medium tires for Norris, recognizing them as the preferred option for the race since the soft tires were ineffective on the MCL38. Following the event, Stella conceded that their choice to use the soft tires was swayed by Hamilton's decision.

"Certainly, Lewis opting for soft tires was a significant issue, given our decision to use medium tires," he clarified. "The gamble was essentially about whether the soft tires would last until the end and the extent of the advantage they would provide.

"Initially, when considering the switch, opting for medium tires seems quicker towards the finish. However, it's crucial to evaluate the potential time lost during the initial two or three laps on mediums, as well as the danger of slipping on a wet spot and losing control of the vehicle. Looking back, our decision was heavily swayed by Lewis choosing soft tires, but in hindsight, choosing medium tires would have likely been the better strategy."

McLaren might regret a lost chance, especially since Verstappen appeared to have a solid shot at finishing in fifth place this weekend. Had they anticipated the Safety Car situation in Canada, Norris could have potentially clinched the victory.

In similar fashion, during pivotal instances in Spain and Austria, Norris lost potential wins due to direct confrontations with Verstappen. Although McLaren has managed to avoid the level of scrutiny Ferrari has faced (for the time being), there's a significant amount of strategy refinement needed in the team's operations to consistently transform their competitive speed into routine wins at the races.

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