Max Verstappen wary of McLaren threat despite victory in Qatar

Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris were Max Verstappen's closest challengers in Japan and Qatar

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Max Verstappen feels McLaren are closing in on Red Bull despite taking a comfortable victory at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix.

Throughout the weekend in Losail, McLaren duo Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris pushed Verstappen, with the former even beating the now-three-time world champion in the Sprint Race.

It was a similar podium to the previous race at Suzuka, with Piastri and Norris the other way around in Qatar, but the McLaren pair were only five seconds behind Verstappen compared to nearly 20 seconds in Japan.

“I think what made my race was that first stint,” explained Verstappen to the press. “I think we were quite good on the tyres.

“We had a bit of a tyre offset compared to the McLarens. I could drive a bit longer on most of the sets, which in some places cost me a bit on the out lap.

“Then I had a slow stop towards the end, so they were close behind me. They have been really quick all weekend. With the fuel coming out, it looked like they were picking up more pace. 

McLaren is making great steps forward throughout the year. And from our side, we will try to improve maybe a little bit this year, but mainly for next year.”

Have McLaren closed the gap?

Considering how much disarray McLaren was in at the start of 2023, it’s a massive testament to the work done behind the scenes they can challenge runaway leaders Verstappen and Red Bull.

McLaren‘s fast rate of development has seen Norris finish second behind Verstappen three times in 2023.

The Woking-based team are just 11 points behind Aston Martin in the battle for fourth place in the F1 constructors’ championship, having been more than 100 points away earlier in the season.

But, it would be easy to get carried away with McLaren‘s Qatar weekend and think a race win is just around the corner.

Max Verstappen celebrates victory at the 2023 Qatar GP alongside Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris | Clive Rose / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The Losail International Circuit was resurfaced following the last Qatar GP in 2021. The new surface, along with a mid-weekend decision to limit drivers to 18 laps per stint on a single set of tyres, favoured McLaren over Red Bull.

At Suzuka, Verstappen was almost six tenths of a second quicker than Piastri in qualifying, with the race seeing a more sizeable gap of just under 20 seconds. 

Red Bull is beatable if a particular track doesn’t suit its all-conquering RB19. However, except for Las Vegas where no running has previously occurred, it is hard to see how McLaren can end their two-year win drought.

Ed Spencer
Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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