McLaren team boss Andrea Stella praised Oscar Piastri for a “brilliant” comeback drive in Saturday’s Las Vegas GP, but it was a performance that was ultimately undone by F1’s mandated tyre rule.
On Friday, McLaren’s shockingly poor display in qualifying – which Lando Norris and Piastri ended respectively in P16 and P19 – led many to downgrade team papaya’s chances of scoring good points in Vegas.
The team took a further hit when Lando Norris crashed heavily on the second lap of the race, fortunately with no physical consequences for the young Briton.
However, an impressive start by Piastri elevated the Aussie to 13th from where he gained a position almost every two laps to run as high as seventh ahead of his switch to a second set of hards on lap 16 of 50.
It was a forced stop for the McLaren rookie who had picked up a puncture following a contact with Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Shortly later, a Safety Car deployed on lap 26 incited McLaren to keep its charger out in the field, a decision that immediately propelled Piastri up into the top four as he breezed past all those that were in the pitlane changing their rubber.
But with the obligation to run a second compound, Piastri was unfortunately assured of falling back down the order, a setback that became effective on lap 43 when he pitted for a set of mediums.
A late fight with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly from which he came out on top brought allowed him to seize P10 at the checkered flag, but that as well as a bonus point for snatching the fastest lap were small consolations for the 22-year-old rookie.
“The timing of the Safety Car was pretty much perfect for the guys that stayed out on mediums at the start,” the McLaren driver recounted. “Look at Ocon, and it worked perfectly for him.”
“I was really wishing the rule of using two compounds didn’t exist, because I would have just gone to the end on the hard.
“I think we had the pace to hand on to people, so that was a shame. The pace of the car was a really good surprise.
“[Qualifying] obviously wasn’t particularly representative of our pace, but today was probably better than we expected. So we need to understand what the difference was.”
Stella felt that it was the clash between Piastri and Hamilton that derailed his drivers race.
“We needed to pit before the due time because of the contact with Hamilton,” said the McLaren boss. “That was disappointing, just a massive shame, because Oscar was absolutely brilliant.”
But Piastri wasn’t sure that the incident with the Mercedes driver had really impacted his evening.
“It was kind of just an awkward one,” he explained. Neither of us had really committed to the corner that much and we both committed at the last minute.
“Then I was trying to back out of it, but we just ended up meeting in the middle. So I had a puncture from that.
“I don’t think it really hurt our race in all honesty,” he added. “Yeah, it would have been interesting to see if a one-stop could have worked.
“It’s always hard to know. We would have been a sitting duck, like [Pierre] Gasly pretty much.
“A lot of things for a lot of people went wrong in that race, and I think I was in the same boat.”
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