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Formula 1

Why McLaren can ‘attack and go for glory’ against Verstappen

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

McLaren believes it is realistic to lead the Italian Grand Prix after the first corner and front-row starter Daniel Ricciardo says he will “attack and go for glory” at the start.

Ricciardo has earned his best grid position for McLaren after finishing third in sprint qualifying at Monza – he is promoted one place by Saturday race winner Valtteri Bottas’s grid penalty.

Lando Norris will start third in the second McLaren after holding off the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton throughout the 18-lap sprint race.

While Mercedes and Red Bull have superior race pace to McLaren, the Mercedes-powered MCL35M is very competitive and its straightline speed is better than that of the Red Bull-Honda.

Ricciardo had credited “pure rage” for the excellent final sector that earned him fifth on the grid in qualifying and after turning that into such a good grid position for the grand prix, which he will start alongside poleman Max Verstappen, he is feeling bullish about McLaren’s prospects.

He said: ”There’s a potential chance to lead the race so obviously we’ll try to do that and then figure out the next 50 laps after that! But we’ll see.

“I’m pretty positive going into tomorrow so I think we can definitely shake things up a little.

“More of the challenge is the pitstop window.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Sprint Day Monza, Italy

“That’s where the faster cars have a chance to stretch their legs or get some clean air so that’s maybe the part of the race we have to watch.

“But I think for the start we can attack and try to go for glory.”

Earning track position at the start could set McLaren up for an upset in Italy, although it will not simply be a case of using its straightline speed to stay out of reach.

Norris’s sprint race performance against Hamilton showed the McLaren can keep a Mercedes at bay for a full stint but Norris had soft tyres while Hamilton had mediums.

The short race distance meant the tyre management that comes into play during a grand prix was not a factor, while Norris was also benefiting from a small tow from Ricciardo up ahead to keep out of reach even when Hamilton had use of the drag reduction system.

Norris thinks McLaren is “definitely a lot slower” than the Mercedes and that “at some point, Lewis is going to be coming past me”.

But he does believe there is a chance to jump Verstappen – and if so, the straightline speed difference will be a significant boost, citing the struggle Sergio Perez had in the second Red Bull to make progress in the midfield.

“It would give us much more of a chance,” said Norris of getting ahead of Verstappen and keeping ahead.

“I don’t know why everyone thinks we’re the kings on the straight because I wouldn’t say so. Mercedes are quicker than us on the straights this weekend.

“But definitely from a Mercedes point of view compared to Red Bull, we definitely seem to have a bit of an advantage.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Sprint Day Monza, Italy

“We are just competitive in straights, we’re running quite a low downforce comparing to a lot of people, and against that Red Bull if we can be ahead, considering I’ve kept Hamilton behind and they’re on pole by half a second to the Red Bulls, maybe we would have that little bit more of a chance comparing to Max.

“There is that chance and Perez didn’t drive through the whole pack, he got stuck behind [Antonio] Giovinazzi. So there’s a chance for sure.

“We have to wait and see what it’s going to be like to figure it out. But it was done last year [when Pierre Gasly won the race for AlphaTauri] and my race [in the sprint shows] there is this ability to hold people up and defend in the right places and not let them through.”

When McLaren last started from the front row, at the Styrian GP following a stellar qualifying performance from Norris, McLaren felt that the one-lap pace was comparable to Red Bull and Mercedes but expected to fade in the race.

That came to pass with Norris falling to fifth in the race, some 45 seconds behind Verstappen who he had started next to on the front row.

But at Monza, even McLaren’s notoriously realistic team boss Andreas Seidl confessed that the team’s grid positions and car performance this weekend raises expectations for Sunday’s grand prix.

“We’re starting in P2 and P3 and with having a competitive car, there might be opportunities to be there,” said Seidl.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Sprint Day Monza, Italy

“We will not try to do anything stupid, but when you start from P2 and P3 here at Monza with a long run to the first corner as well, there’s always a chance to get a good tow, maybe be first after the first corner.

“But we need to be realistic then about how the race would evolve. Yes, there’s a chance to keep faster cars behind.

“At the same time it’s a long race and we have seen also that over the stint length, the Mercedes and Red Bull have an advantage in terms of tyre degradation.”

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