McLaren, one of the most glorious teams of Formula 1, had a terrible start to the season, finishing 15th at best in the first two rounds. However, in the last three GPs, 104 points have been collected, which is 29 more than F1’s reigning Red Bull.
McLaren’s season can be divided into two: until the ninth race of the season in Austria, no significant speed was shown, but at Red Bull’s home track, Lando Norris secured the team’s this year’s best place and finished fourth.
Since then, McLaren has not earned points with both cars at every race, but the results have been noticeably better. Norris has finished in second place four times and secured third place once. Rookie Oscar Piastri has won one sprint race and finished third and second in the main race.
At the beginning of the season, however, they dug a deep hole for themselves in the constructors’ standings. But it’s clear that McLaren, currently in fifth position with 219 points, will move up to at least the fourth position. And if Ferrari should lose the last five GPs of the year, rising to the third position is not impossible.
The poor start was no shock
McLaren did not approach the season too optimistically, as there were problems with the development work in the winter, they took a “raw” car to the first races, and in March the technical director James Key resigned. However, the terrible first two races did not make the British team wave the white flag, but to work even harder and develop a hell of a four-wheeler.
Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff suggested in September that McLaren had been able to make their formula a fraction of a second faster per lap during the year. Although McLaren boss Andrea Stella did not initially confirm this, the Italian eventually stated that the Austrian was more or less right.
Not wanting to bring out innovations too hastily against the backdrop of poor results at the beginning of the season, McLaren focused on making the development work as good as possible. During the season, most effort has been put into improving aerodynamics, but the suspension, for example, has also been developed.
Props should be given for the fact that essentially all of McLaren’s innovations have hit the mark. At the same time, the car has not necessarily been developed to be more comfortable for Norris and Piastr’s driving styles, but simply better.
For example, McLaren has had concerns about slow cornering speeds in recent years. This season, a lot of effort has been put into making the car more capable in this regard immediately, rather than in a few years. “This development is not what I would like in terms of my driving style, but it makes the formula better overall. It made us faster, but it didn’t make me feel more comfortable in the car,” said 23-year-old Norris.
You have to keep a cool head
McLaren drivers and the team principal have repeatedly stated in the second half of the season that although the development work has borne fruit, there is no reason to be on cloud nine yet. While McLaren is very good on fast circuits, there is plenty of room for improvement on slower ones.
Moreover, good results in a short period of time are no guarantee that success will continue. An excellent example here is Aston Martin, which started the season with bravado and a lot of success – the front driver Fernando Alonso was on the podium six times during the first eight races – but after the Canadian GP, the two-time world champion has finished in the top three only once.
According to Stella, McLaren does everything to ensure that nothing is overlooked in the development work. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we think we have to increase the pace of development because it is in such situations that you miss certain steps,” said the 52-year-old Italian, who previously worked for the Ferrari F1 team for a long time.
What the future holds
McLaren is moving in such a positive direction that some formula fans already dare to believe that in 2024 Red Bull and Max Verstappen could finally have a serious competitor. It should be noted here that although Norris and Piastri have really had a very good second half of the season and have come much closer to the Dutchman, the Englishman and the Australian have never managed to grab a win from Verstappen.
As Stella aptly pointed out and gave the example of Aston Martin, it is possible to make great progress in development work during the off-season, but ultimately everything is decided on track. Yes, McLaren continues with a good background and is not going to slack, but Red Bull, which has dominated the F1 series in recent years, does not want to leave anything to chance.
Therefore, McLaren’s goal for the next season could be the best of the “mere mortals”. Their competitors are Ferrari, Mercedes and maybe Aston Martin, but not Red Bull, which is constantly racing from victory to victory. Because even though McLaren has scored 29 more points than Red Bull over the last three stages, Verstappen’s 433 points alone is just under half of the combined achievement of Norris and Piastri.
However, the fact that in the middle of this year, the team got its new wind tunnel and racing simulator working – which should make the development work even more efficient and high-quality – offers even more optimism to McLaren fans.
But as said: at the end of the day, everything will be settled on track. We will get our first taste of whether McLaren will continue to be near the top in 2024 at the opening round of next season in Bahrain.