The wait for Australia’s Oscar Piastri to secure a maiden F1 podium goes on, after the McLaren driver came home in fifth place in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Having started fourth, Piastri surged through the first corner to storm to second place. But he was brought undone in part by his own team, with teammate Lando Norris undercutting the Aussie by pitting first on lap 18.
Piastri subsequently slipped down to fifth as the race wore on, with Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton overtaking him.
But questions are being asked of McLaren’s strategy, with the decision to pit Norris first – rather than the lead driver – hinting at the possibility of preferential treatment for the rising English star.
Commentator Martin Brundle said at the time: “Piastri and his manager Mark Webber will be concerned about that. He was running front (for) McLaren and got second pit stop. So the undercut there has moved them around. Maybe that’s what McLaren wanted.”
F1 commentator Matt Gallagher posted on Twitter: “Piastri gonna be FUUUUUUMING with that undercut from McLaren”.
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Piastri jumps Lewis & Norris on 1st lap! | 00:52
After the race, team boss Zak Brown defended the decision, saying it was made to cover off a potential pit stop from Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Former F1 champ Nico Rosberg said on Sky F1: “That was not fair Zak!”
Brown replied: “We thought that was the best strategy for the team. We were considering do we do something later in the race but we were on what was the best strategy for the team. At the time, we wanted to cover Lewis. Lewis came out and looked like they were going to make a stop.”
Rosberg asked: “Shouldn’t you have just switched places right afterwards?”
Brown replied: “We wanted to see how the pace settled in on the new tyres. It was something we spoke about on pit wall and said: ‘Let’s see where we are on lap five-from-the-end and make a decision’.
Brown was then asked directly about preferential treatment for Norris: “So Lando doesn’t get first call week in week out?”
Brown hit back: “No, no no no. That was what we thought was the best strategy and really keying off what we thought Lewis was going to do.”
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‘Yeah that was not fair Zak!’ | 01:20
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella doubled down on that reasoning, saying Norris was more ‘at risk’ from Hamilton and therefore necessitated him pitting first.
“In terms of the undercut that we had at the first stop, you just go really with the sequence that is natural, because you cover with the car that is more at risk, and then you cover with the other car,” Stella said.
“Lando’s out lap was just super, super quick, which meant Oscar lost the position. To be honest, our approach to these situations is to think about team first. We think as a team, and then we deal with the internal situation.”
There’s no doubt that Norris showed better pace for the remainder of the race, with the Australian having to manage tyre life and temperatures as well as damage to his floor – not that he ever mentioned the damage after the race.
Piastri played down the internal drama, saying: “It wasn’t ideal to come out behind Lando but when you finish 30 seconds behind him, it clearly didn’t make much difference. I think it was a lot of tyre management.
“I couldn’t do much more to defend. I tried reasonably hard against Checo and he was out of sight in two laps. Some things to review on tyre management but overall a good day for the team,” he said.
He added: “I think there’s bigger things I need to focus on first, of course, that probably wasn’t ideal, but I need to put myself first, I need to put myself on a position where I can fight to stay with him so we’re looking at what I can do better next time. Obviously, that will make my life easier.”
Stella praised the Australian for ‘not looking for excuses’.
“Oscar is a guy that doesn’t look for excuses, so not surprised that he might not even mention [the damage] but it’s there.
The McLaren drivers have enjoyed a comfortable relationship so far in Piastri’s rookie season, but hints of preferential treatment have often caused friction between teammates.
Commentators heap praise on Piastri | 01:00
Brown said he would be keeping a close eye on the teammates to ensure the relationship remains positive.
“It’s tricky, obviously, Nico [Rosberg] was there and his championship season was pretty, pretty exciting [in 2016]. Drivers are naturally obviously very competitive with each other and you’ve just got to make sure they race cleanly, and you’re fair.
“So, when that happened on the pit stop, we knew it was something we might need to address later on, but it was too early in the race to make that decision.
“I think it’s all about managing the environment, and making sure that, if you see something bubbling up … we’ve all been there before where you see something bubbling up. Some of the team bosses just kind of watch for it to happen. So you got to get in there early if you start seeing some growling.”
Ricciardo buoyant after first race back | 01:18
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