McLaren left wondering what might have been at the British Grand Prix

At first blush, Sunday’s British Grand Prix looks like a massive win for McLaren. Lando Norris captured his seventh Grand Prix podium of the season with a third-place finish. Oscar Piastri finished behind him in fourth place, giving the team a 27-point haul that topped all teams at Silverstone. That chunk of points saw McLaren not only gain on Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship but pull to within just seven points of Ferrari for P2 in the standings.

And yet, Sunday could have been so much more for McLaren.

A series of strategy decisions in changing conditions saw McLaren turn a potential one-two finish into the eventual P3 and P4 for Norris and Piastri, leaving the team to wonder just what could have been on Sunday at Silverstone.

In the early stages, it seemed as if McLaren had gotten it right. While Max Verstappen powered into P3 behind the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, Norris and Piastri waited to strike sitting in fourth and fifth, respectively. As the first batch of rain came through, that is when the papaya boys pounced, and within a few laps, they were running up in first and second, with Norris ahead of his teammate.

Eventually, the teams faced the critical decision regarding when to switch from slick tires to a set of intermediates, as conditions on the track began to worsen. Finally, McLaren brought Norris in, but given the pit lane layout at Silverstone — with each team having just the one pit stall — they faced a critical decision: Do they bring both drivers in and double-stack the cars, or do they leave one of them out for a lap on the slick tires in worsening conditions?

They brought Norris in and left Piastri out.

While that worked for Norris, and he came back out as the race leader with a three-second advantage over Hamilton, it cost Piastri dearly. He wound his way around Silverstone while struggling to find enough grip, and after he finally completed his pit stop he emerged with a set of intermediates on his MCL38, and back in sixth place behind Carlos Sainz Jr.

Up in the F1TV commentary box, Jolyon Palmer was rather dismayed at the decision to leave Piastri out for one more lap. “His race has been butchered by staying out another lap,” stated the former F1 driver, and there was evidence available to bolster his position. Mercedes faced the same decision as Hamilton and Russell but executed a solid double-stack stop and both drivers came out ahead of Piastri.

However, McLaren then caught a break, as Russell’s W15 suffered a suspected water system failure, and his retirement promoted Piastri up to P5. He then took fourth, overtaking Sainz for the position.

Then came the next critical decision. With the laps ticking down and the track drying out, teams faced the question of when to switch from the green-walled intermediate tires — which were starting to show significant signs of wear — to a set of slicks. With 15 laps to go Hamilton and Verstappen both came in for a fresh set of tires, while McLaren left Norris out for one more lap.

Similar to the decision with Piastri, Norris lost significant time on his next lap on the worn intermediates, and his situation was compounded further by a slower-than-usual pit stop, set in motion when Norris pulled slightly too far forward in his pit box. As he lumbered out of his stall on a set of softs and tried desperately to fire them up, all he could do was watch Hamilton rocket by him to take the race lead.

Shortly thereafter, Norris’ hopes of a victory turned into a fight to hold on for P2. Red Bull decided to bolt on a set of hard tires on Verstappen’s RB20, and that looked like the right decision as Verstappen slowly gained on both Hamilton and Norris, with both British drivers working around Silverstone on soft tires. Eventually, Verstappen caught Norris and took second away from him, shuffling Norris down to third where he eventually finished.

Dreams of a McLaren one-two finish had fallen away, with the Woking-based outfit forced to settle for a P3-P4 afternoon.

“And yeah, as a team, I don’t think we did quite the job we should have done or good enough, but still lovely to be on the podium here in Silverstone,” admitted Norris trackside to Jenson Button following the race.

The McLaren driver then shouldered the bulk of the blame.

“You know, at the same time I blame myself today for not making some of the right decisions. But, I hate it. I hate ending in this position and ever having excuses for not doing a good enough job,” said Norris, before turning a bit more optimistic. “But I’m so happy, I’m still gonna enjoy it. I think we still did so many things right. So many positives.”

Speaking with Sky Sports Italy, McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella conceded that there were things they could have done differently, noting the decision not to double-stack with Piastri earlier in the race, as well as not putting a set of mediums on Norris’ MCL38 during the final pit stop.

Norris completed his trackside interview with Button on an even more optimistic note. I’m going to come back stronger next year,” said Norris, “and try again.”

Once more, as far as points go this was still a strong result for McLaren, as they cut into Red Bull’s lead atop the Constructors’ Championship standings, and pulled within single digits of Ferrari for P2.

But it could have been more for them.

So much more.

And there might be a few restless nights in Woking before the grid roars back to life in Hungary.

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