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‘There wasn’t much to pick’ between McLaren and Red Bull in Imola says Stella

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IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 19: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing

With Lando Norris coming within a second of beating Max Verstappen in Imola, McLaren team boss Andrea Stella could be forgiven for being elated with how the season is unfolding, following on from Norris’ victory in Miami.

But while he was clearly pleased with some aspects of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, Stella also sounded a note of caution – as with the gaps at the top narrowing, McLaren know they need to be pinpoint perfect across every aspect of their race weekend moving forwards, something that wasn’t quite the case in Italy.

READ MORE: Norris says he needed ‘one or two more laps’ after agonisingly missing out on Imola victory to Verstappen

“Execution of the weekend is always a key factor,” said Stella. “But now when margins are so close, I think the first three cars in qualifying were within one tenth or something, then clearly operations, the way you drive the race and manage the tyres can become the dominant factor.

“I think between a McLaren and a Red Bull today there wasn’t much to pick and other factors made a difference.”

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 19: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and

There is now very little between McLaren and Red Bull on race pace based on Imola

As for those other factors, Stella was swift to pay homage to the talent and race craft of Verstappen. But it was the Dutchman’s somewhat unexpected pole position on Saturday which played a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the race.

“I think we also see the skills of the driver who won the race, it’s Max Verstappen. But for us, it’s important to be there and knock on the door of victories on a weekend in which like at some stage it looked like Ferrari had the fastest car, then Max appeared in qualifying so it is very variable, so it is important we were there.

READ MORE: Leclerc pleased with Imola podium as he says ‘it’s looking good’ for Ferrari in remainder of season

“The other thing I can say today is that being in the dirty air seemed to play a big factor, so anytime you had back markers [they] seemed to play a part. So having the pole position, being ahead in the first corner kind of give you the free air to manage your tyres in a certain way and manage your pace.

“So, from this point of view, Max did a good job yesterday in getting the pole position and being ahead in the first corner.”

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 09: McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella looks on from the pitwall

Stella shouldered the blame for the grid penalty that hampered Piastri's race

McLaren’s latest upgrades seem to have been key in closing the field at the top of the timing sheets, and they will have some new, track-specific parts for Monaco next weekend. But they need to nail their execution across every facet of racing – unlike in Imola, where an error in warning Oscar Piastri of approaching cars led to his grid penalty for the race.

Having had two cars starting in the top three might have made all the difference on Sunday, as it would have provided a buffer to Charles Leclerc, who at times was the quickest car and who caused the timing of Norris’ pit stop with McLaren covering off the risk of a Ferrari undercut. That cost Norris valuable seconds, as he came out behind Sergio Perez and had to clear the Red Bull.

READ MORE: Horner praises ‘phenomenal’ turnaround by Red Bull at the end of ‘stressful’ Imola GP

But whether a later stop for Norris would have made any difference in his pursuit of Verstappen will remain an unknown, as Stella made sure to take responsibility for Piastri’s penalty, which cost the Aussie a chance of a podium.

“We take responsibility for Oscar not finishing on the podium as the reason of the impeding has to do with our operation, it doesn’t have to do with Oscar making any mistake at all, it was a situation created by the team. I’m sure he will have more opportunities in the future.”

McLaren sit third in the constructors’ championship behind Red Bull and Ferrari heading into Monaco next weekend.

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