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Formula 1 Monaco GP

How McLaren was ready to pit Norris – but Ferrari ruined its Monaco F1 plan

The tactical battle in Monaco over the top four Formula 1 cars' gap to George Russell was won by Ferrari as it denied McLaren's attempts to use it to pit.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38
McLaren had hoped to push Ferrari into extending its lead at the front of the 78-lap race, in a bid to build a sufficient buffer between the cars in the top four and Russell to allow McLaren to make a pitstop.
Having started on hard tyres, Russell switched to the medium compound during the early red flag, which forced him into managing his tyres to make it to the end. As the top four were all equipped with the harder tyres, the chasm between the two groups began to grow quickly.
McLaren wanted this to grow to a stable 20 seconds-plus gap to get the option of bringing Lando Norris in for a free stop without losing position, which Ferrari was aware of and thus tasked race winner Charles Leclerc with slowing down the tempo of the race to quell the growing gap.
Norris was also kept in check by Carlos Sainz ahead; on the 54th lap, the gap between the fourth-placed McLaren and Russell had grown to over 20 seconds, prompting Sainz to back off by two seconds over the next two laps to slam the pit window shut.
As Russell had also increased his pace to help ward off Max Verstappen, who had pitted and was rapidly catching on fresher tyres, Ferrari had been able to keep the gap just outside of McLaren's reach.
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella credited Ferrari's efforts to keep the gap small enough to deny any efforts to pit, but admitted that it would have been a risk even if the pit window had remained at its zenith for a few more laps.
"In terms of pitting Lando, yes, we did consider and naturally we did consider it for the entire race, but Ferrari, I think they did a good job of always keeping Lando in the pit window of one of the Mercedes," Stella explained. 
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"The pit window might have appeared for a single lap but it would have been still a bit of a risk because, as soon as the pitstop had been just one second slower than normal, we could have ended up behind a Mercedes and then it was gone.
"Like we have seen, even if you were three seconds faster, there was no way to overtake. So I think a good job by Ferrari in avoiding that we could take the pit window and then obviously it would have been an interesting race with Lando on fresher tyres.
"But based on what I've seen today on overtaking, I think there was no way that even with the fresh medium we could have passed Carlos. So I don't think it would have changed the result."
Explaining Ferrari's side, team principal Fred Vasseur revealed that it was a difficult balance to strike in keeping Norris within range of Russell, without the expense of Sainz losing too much ground to Piastri in case of a late safety car.
Vasseur reckoned that it was not a potential Norris fightback on mediums that most concerned him, but rather the effect of a safety car that could allow the McLarens to fit the soft tyre.
"We knew that starting after the red flag we had to do 76 laps with the same set of tyres and we had to slow down, and [Charles] was perhaps three or four seconds out of the pace at this stage.
"But he was always able to manage the situation and Carlos did exactly the same job. For Carlos, it was even more difficult because we asked him to stay not too far away of Piastri to cover a potential safety car, but to also to slow down Norris for Russell. 
George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"It was more controlling the race than pushing. It was a bit frustrating for them because a couple of times they asked us on the radio, 'Can I push? Can I push?', but it was not at all our interest and I'm more than pleased with the job that they did today.
"At that stage of the race [when the gap to Russell was at its widest] they had to fit medium. I was more scared of a potential safety car at the end and they could fit a soft. 
"But one lap Carlos pushed a little bit, he was cruising in 17.8 and he did a 15.1. That means that we had a mega reserve of pace at this stage of the race because we didn't push at all on the tyres. 
"And then I said, 'ok, it will be safe even if they put a set of soft and not wait.'"
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