McLaren: Norris launch off the grid not a factor in Spanish GP loss

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Lando Norris believed his subpar launch off the grid cost him a win in the Spanish Grand Prix, but McLaren team principal Andrea Stella insists a better start wouldn’t have altered the race’s outcome.

Norris, who started from pole and displayed impressive pace throughout the race, ultimately finished second behind race winner Max Verstappen, just over two seconds behind the Red Bull driver.

But after the race, the Briton stubbornly blamed himself for the shortfall versus his rival at the checkered flag, and it all boiled down to the run down to the first corner according to the McLaren driver.

However, Stella begged to differ, pointing to George Russell fast launch and to the Mercedes driver’s move around the outside of both Norris and Verstappen at Turn 1 as the deciding factor that shuffled the running order.

“I think actually Lando's start wasn't very bad at all,” explained Stella. “It was a decent start, like he was almost one car ahead of Max.

“But the fact is that Russell got the double slipstream of Lando and Max. And, in corner one, I think Lando was just very wise, because it's one second and your race is gone. And that's not the way we want to race. We want to stay in the race.

“So I think from an opportunity point of view it [the start] was more of a detail. Okay, you can do an even better start, you would have been one metre ahead, but it's very, very marginal.”

Stella emphasized how the fiercely tight competition has elevated the impact of minor details or approximations, a theme also highlighted by Norris recently.

But while the Italian acknowledged the critical role of defending the lead at the start due to the long run to Turn 1, he also praised Norris for now forcing the issue in the heat of the moment.

“You have no margin in which you can compensate any little imprecision,” said Stella. “I would say that the main factor was that we couldn't defend the first position in Barcelona.

“This is not necessarily a surprise, because you have such a long run to corner one. Plus the cars run high downforce, that as soon as you gain a bit of slipstream, it makes you so much faster than the car ahead. This meant that Lando was not in condition to defend his pole position.

“I actually appreciated his wise approach to stay out of trouble there, because the race we know was going to come to us. It was just the couple of positions lost at corner one and the time lost behind Russell, they were the two decisive factors. And the [slow final] pit stop, probably another one second.

“But in fairness, even with the one second, if we had been behind Verstappen at the start [and in front of Russell], I think we could have played our cards with good chances.”

Finally, Stella felt that McLaren’s strategists had played the right hand by extending Norris’ first stint on the soft tyre versus Verstappen, insisting the same game plan would have applied had he led the race from the outset.

“We were very surprised when we saw people go in on lap 16-17 because for me, that's a bit of self-inflicted pain at this circuit, no?” he explained.

“The degradation is so high, overtaking is easy, so we thought this was going to bring us back in the race.

“If we hadn’t lost a little bit too long behind Russell at the start, the race would have come to us at the end of the 66 laps. So actually, I would like to praise the good work of our strategists, because somehow this is what we had in mind.”

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