McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl says the team must focus on maximising its qualifying pace to stand the best chance of beating their rivals to third place in the constructors championship.
The team are currently tied with Racing Point and just one point behind Renault, who reclaimed third place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Both McLaren’s drivers finished behind one of the team’s key rivals at Imola. Daniel Ricciardo took third for Renault and Sergio Perez sixth for Racing Point ahead of the two MCL35s.
Seidl said McLaren’s slim race pace advantage was effectively neutralised on tracks where overtaking was difficult, leaving their drivers unable to move up the order.
“In the end, it was clear looking at [the] weekend that our race on Sunday was pretty much compromised with the qualifying result,” he said. “Finishing in ninth and 10th, there wasn’t a lot really we could do today.”
Carlos Sainz Jnr made one of the race’s few passes, on team mate Lando Norris, as he rose to take seventh place at the finish.
“We have seen with Carlos that on a track like this, if you’re stuck behind a car then even if I think we had maybe slightly more pace, we simply couldn’t do anything,” said Seidl.
He said McLaren’s weekend had been error-free but the result was the best they could hope for given their starting positions. “That’s why I think, in the end, we still need to be happy with the outcome that we could score 10 points.
“The team and both drivers, in terms of race execution, did a great job. We had good pit stops and the right calls on the strategy side and obviously we benefited from the incidents, which kept us in the fight for the third.”
Of the three teams, McLaren have reached Q3 the most often, qualifying in the top 10 on 24 occasions. Renault have done so 17 times and Racing Point have made 18 appearances in Q3. However for the past five grands prix Norris and Sainz have qualified behind at least one Racing Point or Renault driver, putting them further back in the order.
Seidl said that the team needed to focus on whatever marginal gains could close the gap to Renault – who were two tenths of a second faster in qualifying at Imola – or Racing Point, who were similarly ahead during Q3 at Algarve.
“It is clear we need to use the next one-and-a-half weeks to see, in all areas, how we can find the smallest gains in order to make sure we can keep this battle up,” said Seidl.
“With the team we have, with the car we have and also with our two drivers, we still have it in our hands to keep this fight alive and that’s what we’re focussed on. But as always key is qualifying position on Saturday afternoon because it makes such a big difference how your race goes if you have a free air or if you’re stuck behind another car and that’s what we have to focus on.”
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2020 F1 season