F1 2023 | McLaren | The quest for redemption halted

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The team might be taking the fifth constructor position, but with just 14 points to their name, they are far from satisfied…

A Difficult Start

The Woking-based team might be having one of the worst starts to the season. Following the departure of Andreas Seidl to the Sauber Group, Executive Director of Racing Andrea Stella took the role of Team Principal for 2023.

They also were dealing with a race-rusty new driver; Oscar Piastri is a talent to be reckoned with. However, he had not been at the helm of a racing car since the end of 2021.

Then came the car launch; Since the MCL60’s launch back in February, the team explicitly revealed that they were nowhere near happy with their starting package and that a new development path was needed.

This was proven on track with a shocking start to the season, their worst since 2017. Bahrain saw both drivers out in Q1 and Q2; the race also saw a Piastri DNF and a series of strange technical troubles with Norris’ car.

This shakeup caused questions to be raised about Lando’s future in the team and the integrity of their technical team. It also quickly led to major decisions like a wider reset of the design heads; Technical Director James Key left and got replaced with a team of three specialised roles:

Peter Prodromou moved into leading the whole aerodynamics department, David Sanchez will return to McLaren as Car Concept and Performance Technical Director on January 1 2024, after a decade at Ferrari, Neil Houldey was promoted to Engineering and Design Technical Director.

Promising Upgrades

After a positive Australian Grand Prix, with both drivers scoring points and avoiding trouble during a chaotic race. McLaren brought significant floor upgrades to Baku in an attempt to gain back some performance. The team acknowledged that they had been slow to grasp the specific meaning of the floor height rule modification, but now that they knew, they would need to reorganize things. As a result, McLaren ran the last two races with an updated floor, which was planned even before the car was unveiled. Nevertheless, the team faced a tough race, with Norris finishing P9 and Piastri not getting points and settling for P11.

“[It] didn’t make a difference, really,” Norris said afterwards. “I would have finished P9 either way. Just a tough race, long, sat behind the cars with our straight-line speed, and just with quite a short DRS zone. Not just for us, but everyone [it was] just very, very difficult to overtake.”

Miami was even more of a shocker; after both cars exited in Q1, Lando finished the race at P17, and Oscar ended up at P19.

“Our main takeaway from Miami is that we were not quick enough this weekend. After scoring points in Baku, this weekend serves as a reality check on how much work we have ahead of us. The plan doesn’t change: we have good developments coming; we keep our heads down, regroup and go again in Imola.”, said Stella.

What’s next?

With Imola cancelled, the team announced further delays to their upgrades package. They estimate the new parts to be ready by the Canadian Grand Prix; this delay is not a promising sign towards their performance in Monaco and Barcelona.

Oscar Piastri also has been praised by his teammate after five races; comparing him to Daniel Ricciardo, he stated, “I wouldn’t say we have the same driving style, but our comments and complaints are generally always the same. So, I think that’s a good thing. He’s a lovely guy, down to earth, normal guy, hard worker, and so on. So, it’s good, fun. Different, I guess to Daniel.”

Only time will tell whether the team will manage to pick themselves up. But for now, the dream of regaining yesteryears’ glories seems unattainable.

Photo credit: McLaren Racing