McLaren are targeting Aston Martin after a “special” double podium for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Woking-based team are 49 points behind Aston Martin in the battle for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship with six events remaining and have momentum on their side after upgrades have worked successfully on the car.
While McLaren are on the up, Aston Martin have struggled recently as Lance Stroll has failed to score since the summer break and Fernando Alonso has taken just four points from the last three events.
“It’s definitely doable. All we can do is be as competitive as we can every weekend,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown told Sky Sports F1 when asked about catching Aston Martin.
“We have to chase down Fernando, which is never easy. You can never rule him out. We have got to have a couple of big points races like we did last weekend [in Singapore] where maybe Aston Martin don’t get in the points. It’s mathematically possible but we have to keep on pushing and that’s all we can do.
“The team is just doing such a fantastic job, executing week in, week out. We are trying to catch Red Bull. All we can do is chip a tenth at the time but Max was pretty dominant . I think we will be strong at the next race, so will keep pushing.
“I feel as confident as I can we will be pretty strong everywhere, but we know there will be some tracks that favour your car more than others and we are good in the high speed, which Qatar is, so we will be strong there and not be weak anywhere.”
Norris added: “There’s not many races left. I’m sure there’s going to be a couple where Aston are going to be a bit stronger. But I think our advantage at the minute comparing to almost every team, bar a couple, is we have two drivers who are up there fighting for these positions and fighting for this points.
“Not every team has that at the minute. So I think that’s helping us. We can help one another, we can use one another, and I think that’s a good advantage we have over a lot of other teams at the minute.
“So we are on an upward trend. We’re making good progress and days like today prove exactly that. Even though I know there’s going to be maybe some tougher races coming up at times and maybe not as straightforward as today.
“But the progress we’ve made this season has been pretty incredible from my eyes and from where we were, to finishing 18 seconds behind the lead or 19 seconds is I think evidence of exactly that. So I’m proud of everyone and we’ll keep pushing.”
Norris reveals he swore and shouted during VSC
Norris revealed he shouted and swore during the Japanese Grand Prix during the Virtual Safety Car when he came across Sergio Perez.
The McLaren driver believes he lost 10 seconds to everyone during the VSC because Perez was going slowly in the middle sector on his way back to the pit lane to initially retire from the race.
This contributed to the Ferrari drivers being close to Norris after the first round of pit stops, but the Briton pulled away and overtook his team-mate Piastri with the help of team orders to secure another second place.
“The thing is you can’t overtake under the VSC unless it’s obvious the guy has a problem and I don’t know what was going on,” said Norris. “I didn’t know if he had a problem, whether he was just backing me up. I didn’t know and I couldn’t take the risk of just overtaking him.
“He was going so slowly and then when we get the flashing dash for the VSC ending, he went into first gear and then I was on the outside of him because he was going so slowly, and then he almost crashed into me.
“So I honestly have no idea. I was shouting in my helmet. I was swearing quite a bit, but just got… I was so confused, I didn’t know what I could do. I’m losing time to Max.
“The Ferrari guys were, I think, 1.4 seconds behind me after being I think 12 or 13 seconds, so I lost 10 seconds and I didn’t know what I could do at the time.
“If he has a problem, he should pull over and make it obvious that he has a problem. So he didn’t and therefore I couldn’t take the risk of passing under a VSC so no idea. I don’t think it would have changed the world, just made me stress for a little bit more.
“But it would have been maybe just a bit better to put Max under a little bit of pressure at least, after that. I don’t think we would have been quite as far behind. So, a frustrating time, maybe I’ll ask next time what you’re allowed to do but I think I did the right thing so all okay.”
Norris made it consecutive podiums for the second time in his career with a less stressful drive to second place, after he just held onto P2 in Singapore.
McLaren have been the most improved team since the start of the season and Norris thinks his 19-second deficit to race-winner Max Verstappen is proof of McLaren’s progress.
“Since Monza a couple of years ago, it’s probably, in a way, our most deserved (podium) in terms of we are there on pure pace. Nothing had to go our way. We are just where we deserve to be, so an incredible day for everyone but also for myself,” said the 23-year-old.
“Things went, maybe not always to plan, but the pace was extremely strong. Couldn’t challenge Max. Maybe for half a car I actually got into lead for maybe half a second so I’ll take that. But, in a way, it feels better, because the pace was stronger. I could push and we were where we deserve to be, so a good job by the whole team to execute a perfect race.”
Piastri on ‘special’ maiden podium
Despite driving at Suzuka for the first time on Friday, Piastri has been in great form on a week McLaren announced he was staying with the team until the end of 2026.
He started on the front row for the first time on Sunday and says he could have taken the lead from Verstappen with a better second phase off the line.
Nevertheless, the rookie held onto third from Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton to secure a first podium in Formula 1.
“It’s special wherever you get a podium. To get the first one, I don’t think it really matters where, it’s always going to be special,” said Piastri.
“I think for myself, it probably wasn’t my strongest Sunday so from that side of things, there’s still a few things I want to work on. But no, to get the first podium, on pace as well, is a very exciting moment.
“I just wasn’t quick enough at certain points of the race These high-deg races are probably the biggest thing I need to try and work on at the moment.
“I think it’s still quite fresh for me, obviously. In all the junior racing before this there are no races like this. So the only way you can learn from it is by just doing the races.
“So definitely a few things, had I had this race again, that I would have done a bit different. But that’s all part of the learning. So, exciting to know that we can finish on the podium, even if I feel like there’s more to come.”
Will Max Verstappen wrap up his third world championship at the first attempt at the Qatar GP? Watch every session of the Sprint weekend live on Sky Sports F1 from October 6-8.
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