McLaren is banking on in-season developments to have the fourth-fastest car in Formula 1 this season as it admits to being “not entirely happy” with its launch-spec MCL60.
There is no grand expectation for McLaren to leap clear of the midfield and attack the top three teams this year because there are some lingering, fundamental deficits holding it back.
We’ve talked at length about the wait for a new windtunnel and simulator at McLaren, which should finally be up and running this year.
But as that will only start to feed into the 2024 car and then really make a difference in 2025, this year always felt like a bit of treading water for a team that lost momentum.
Even with modest expectations for the interim, McLaren does not sound where it wants to be – at least for the start of the season.
“We identified multiple areas of opportunities,” said new team principal Andrea Stella when asked by The Race about where the 2023 car has been improved. “The good news is that pretty much all of them have been addressed.
“I wouldn’t want to be too specific, but certainly they have to do predominantly with aerodynamics. Aerodynamics is the name of the game in Formula 1 so it’s no mystery.
“But there’s some more areas, for instance in terms of interaction with the tyres. There’s some work that we needed to do and this was done over the winter.
“There’s some other areas of the car that will be improved by developments in the early stages of the season.
“So, we are happy. Not entirely happy for the launch car, but optimistic that we should take a good step soon.”
McLaren is playing catch-up after a slow start to the new technical regulations. It’s on the backfoot not just against the big three but also Alpine.
Star driver Lando Norris still reckons McLaren can end the year best of the rest but clearly the expectation is that it will not be in that position in the beginning.
Stella says that McLaren was just a bit too late in identifying opportunities with some strong development areas last year and has not been able to capitalise on them fully.
“While we are happy with the development of the car in most of the areas, there’s some areas in which we realised a little late to [prioritise] development in some really strong directions,” he said.
“So, not necessarily we have been able to capitalise on this direction in the very short term.
“That’s why I talk about the developments coming after the start of the season.
“In this sense, I just invoke realism.
“Normally you need to be totally happy and totally at the top of what you can do to achieve your targets.”
McLaren’s launch has left the impression that this is not the case in Woking after this winter.
While it’s hard to determine exactly how far behind it is as a result, Stella’s comments about being slow to pick up certain areas of development suggests McLaren is at least starting the year with a more basic version of some key elements on the car.
Though we might expect the launch spec car to evolve a reasonable amount by the time we see it run in Bahrain in testing, there is already talk of waiting for significant developments in-season – Stella mentioned aiming for a package around the fourth race of the season, for example.
These in-season updates will be done with McLaren’s existing infrastructure though – the new windtunnel and simulator will be online this season but will only be used to impact development of the 2024 car from the middle of the year.
It means McLaren is likely to have to wait further for a return to its semi-regular podium-challenging form from 2021, for example.
“Over the course of the season, we would like to establish ourselves as part of the top four,” said Stella.
“We know realistically that with the top three teams, there may be potential just to be in the fourth best car over the course of the season. We are realistic in the very short term.
“There’s good developments already in the pipeline that should land trackside very early in season.
“This should allow us to take a decent step forward, [but] we are not naive.”