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Stella admits surprise at McLaren success after thinking China would be 'damage limitation event'

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Stella and Norris.jpg

Team Principal Andrea Stella admitted he had his reservations about how successful McLaren would be in China before watching Lando Norris grab a podium in Shanghai. The Brit scored a brilliant second place in China after managing to hold off the charging Sergio Perez in the RB20 for his best result of the season so far.

With Red Bull having recorded three 1-2 finishes from the first four races, finishing ahead of Perez was no mean feat for Norris, nor was it guaranteed he’d beat the Ferraris considering the leap in performance the Scuderia have made in the off-season – especially at a track that wasn’t expected to suit the MCL38.

READ MORE: Norris thrilled with ‘surprise’ Chinese GP podium as he reveals pre-race Ferrari bet

McLaren have specialised in tracks featuring high-speed corners like Suzuka, but Shanghai’s unique opening few turns tend to favour cars that can scrub their speed and then accelerate out of the slower stuff.

As such, the noise pre-race was that McLaren would be mixing it with Aston Martin and Mercedes for the lower top 10 positions.

Stella and Norris.jpg

Norris bagged his second podium of the season after also finishing on the rostrum in Australia

Instead, Norris came home second with team mate Oscar Piastri also scoring in eighth. Afterwards, Stella was asked by Sky Sports if he was surprised by the result.

“And so we are! In fairness we came here thinking this was a damage limitation event, but actually it’s been our most competitive event,” he said afterwards.

READ MORE: Perez rues bad luck with Safety Car in China after missing out on P2 as he vows to fight back in Miami

“Pole position for the Sprint, I think in the Sprint would have been possibly a second place finish without the issue at corner one, yesterday competitive in qualifying and again a strong race! So, clearly we have to fine-tune something in our understanding, but Formula 1 often surprises you because it is sensitive to so many parameters.

“But anyhow, good result, good surprise, I’m really happy for the men and women at McLaren, great effort.”

Team members of McLaren celebrate while hanging from the pit wall, as Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38,

McLaren have been hard at work behind the scenes to try and close the gap to their rivals

Norris’ race was made by the way he was able to extend his opening stint and thus avoiding an early pit stop, instead managing to save time by pitting under the Virtual Safety Car, although that wasn’t a straightforward decision in itself.

Charles Leclerc pitted as soon as the VSC was called but Norris had to go round again before coming in and was fortunate the VSC lasted long enough for him to stay ahead of the Ferrari. That also jumped Norris ahead of Perez – but while that slice of luck helped McLaren grab a podium, it wasn’t the only factor that ensured he came home P2.

READ MORE: Leclerc shares ‘big surprise’ that compromised his Chinese GP as Sainz says Ferrari ‘need to do better’

“Unfortunately the timing was such that [the VSC] was right after Lando had passed the pit entry, and then we were very nervous that the VSC would be short, let me say luckily enough it was long so we didn’t have any loss, and for us it worked very well, we gained the second position,” said Stella.

“Then in fairness we maintained the second position thanks to the pace of the car and the amazing driving from Lando. Let me also acknowledge that Oscar had significant damage from a diffuser point of view, lost a lot of aerodynamic downforce so we are happy that he managed to stay in the points.”

McLaren’s jump in form makes the fight for the podium even more exciting for the coming races, and Norris’ race also showed that Red Bull can be vulnerable when forced to fight back through traffic. Stella’s surprise is the fans’ gain at the moment, even if McLaren don’t yet have a Grand Prix win to show for their hard work.

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