McLaren ended Friday practice outside the top 10 for the first time this Formula 1 season as it spent the first day at the Spanish Grand Prix struggling with its updated 2021 car.
The MCL35M has a new floor and front wing at Barcelona, with Lando Norris trying the floor and both drivers performing back-to-back runs with the front wing throughout Friday.
“Some things felt good, but I don’t think we’re maximising anything” :: Lando Norris
Norris ended FP2 the quicker of the pair but was only 12th fastest, 0.9s off the pace and 0.7s slower than Ferrari, McLaren’s main rival from the early races.
Ricciardo, who has earmarked this weekend as a “no excuses” event in his quest to get up to speed at McLaren, was 15th but only a tenth behind Norris.
McLaren is third in the constructors’ championship after a flying start to the season while Norris has finished in the top five in all three races so far, and is third in the drivers’ championship as well.
The team’s FP2 result is a surprise in the context of the season so far but also given Norris’s performance in the opening session, when he was fourth-fastest.
Norris admitted he was slightly confused by McLaren’s lack of progress in the afternoon.
“Some things felt good, but I don’t think we’re maximising anything,” he said of the updated car.
“The guys needs to look at the data from today from all of the things, separate them and see what’s good, what’s maybe not so good or what we need to change and understand a bit more.
“It’s a bit mixed, it felt good in the morning, when we first tried it in FP1. Then as the temperature came up in FP2 we struggled a little bit more.
“The car doesn’t feel bad. We bought a few different things for this weekend. So we just need to understand them for tonight and put it all together.”
Ricciardo felt his own struggles were not down the new aero package but more a continuation of his present limitations in the car.
The ex-Red Bull and Renault driver admitted he was “a bit off in FP1” and felt he was “chasing some rear grip”.
Having finished the previous weekend in Portugal optimistic of a potential new set-up direction to pursue in Spain, his time loss on Friday continued to be dictated by corner entry.
In FP1 there was a particular focus on his braking technique, as he was initially riding the brake too far into Turn 5 and potentially inducing understeer.
Some in-car changes, likely related to differential settings, were used to help mitigate that but Ricciardo was also urged to try feeding in steering lock slightly earlier and apply more initial brake pressure at Turn 4 and Turn 12 – two medium-speed right-handers.
That continued in FP2, where the feedback from his race engineer Tom Stallard was again to get on the brake harder before releasing it, and relayed to him as trying to create “more of a stabby brake profile”.
Ricciardo seemed to make a step in this regard on his second lap on soft tyres during the FP2 qualifying simulations, when he effectively matched his best time despite the peak of the tyre being lost.
He then seemed to have more competitive long-run pace as well on the softs afterwards, with an initial emphasis on lifting earlier through Turns 3 and 4 to help avoid mid-corner understeer and prioritise speed on exit.
“I was kind of fighting the car and not really having the confidence to push it,” Ricciardo said of his initial struggles.
“We addressed it this afternoon. I do think the car was better. And we made a step.
“Clearly a step is not enough. We’ve got to make another one. On paper, it doesn’t look great but it certainly was better this afternoon.
“It’s a second [in lap time] to first, it’s so close. And it just shows not only F1 is very close here amongst all teams, but it’s a track that everyone knows so well. So it’s just a small margins.
“We’ve certainly got to find some more tomorrow. Because if we’re a second off, we might be back here. Some tenths to find.”
“Lando in the debriefs complains about the same things. But I think he’s still just a bit more used to this car doing that” :: Daniel Ricciardo
A big part of Ricciardo’s ongoing experiments to eliminate the deficit he has had to Norris over the first few races comes from the lack of pre-season running in Bahrain.
Every driver who has changed teams has struggled to some degree because of the reduced three-day pre-season schedule which gave them all just 1.5 days in their respective new cars.
Ricciardo has spoken previously about needing to adjust his driving style to suit the MCL35M’s characteristics.
The extensive advice he was being given on braking on Friday would suggest that he is still in a phase of consciously trying to adjust that technique at lower-speed.
But he also admitted he is simply lacking the confidence to “commit and attack the corners”, as even at high-speed “there’s a lot of technique, but it’s about trust in the car, turning in and knowing that it’s going to stick”.
“The sensation is still a little bit different,” he said. “That’s probably taking a little bit of that trust away from me at the moment.
“But some of the reasons this morning, this afternoon certainly got better. There’s a bit of that and ultimately, just a bit of set-up.
“Lando in the debriefs complains about the same things or that the weaknesses are the same things. But I think he’s still just a bit more used to this car doing that and he’s able to probably drive through it a bit better.
“We’re still ultimately trying to get that area improved.”