The McLaren F1 Team is no longer stuck in the middle
McLaren has started the 2023 Formula 1 season slowly. It was unable to reach the top ten in the first two events, but has since emerged as the closest challenger to the dominant Red Bull.
“It was a hell of a turnaround,” McLaren driver Oscar Piastri said.
The team, which ranked fifth in 2022 with 159 points, admitted during the launch of its 2023 car last February that it was not happy with it. The team realized that their design concept had limitations and made major changes in their development team.
McLaren sacked its technical director, James Key, last March and will split his role into a largely reshuffled management under Peter Prodromou. In January, Prodromo will be joined by David Sanchez, who will move from Ferrari, where he was chief engineer, and Rob Marshall, former Red Bull engineering director, to form a three-man technical leadership team.
Under Prodromou’s leadership, the car was heavily overhauled and prepared in Austria in June, with further improvements added for races in Britain and Singapore over the summer. This included redesigned interior parts, such as the radiator position, a revised front spoiler and changes made to the aerodynamically important flooring.
During the first eight rounds, McLaren scored only 17 points. In the 13 races that followed the launch of the updated car, it scored 267 points, ranking second after Red Bull, and occupying fourth place in the standings.
McLaren driver Lando Norris has been on the podium seven times this year, including six runner-up finishes.
“Since we introduced this promotion to Austria, I have become the second highest-scoring driver on the grid,” Norris said. “We have made some huge steps forward and at the same time, considering that we are talking about fighting Red Bull, I think it is still a very good thing, given what we have achieved this year. For us to move on from where we were (in the first race) in Bahrain To get close and talk about fighting Red Bull, I think those are very good signs for us.
Piastri was on the podium twice, making him the first rookie to finish in the top three multiple times since Lewis Hamilton in 2007. Piastri was also first in the Qatar Sprint Cup, the shorter event of six grands prix.
“Our first upgrades gave us an extra step in performance, and everything else since then has done the same,” Piastri said. “I think the most encouraging thing is that everything we wanted to put on the car, everything we wanted to change in the car, it did what it was supposed to do. All the numbers we expected (from the simulations) were the same as in real life.
“I think we were able to show that in the second half of the year. The development and progress on the car side has been incredible.”
Competitors have noticed.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who is sixth, said McLaren had shown it was possible to emerge from the middle of the pack.
“For me, it’s like, ‘Oh, they did it, so they might as well do it,’” he said. “So, fair play. Admiring the work they did.
“And it’s possible to get out of the midfield, because they did it, so why shouldn’t we, you know?”
McLaren’s return came during Andrea Stella’s first year as team principal.
“It’s a translation of an Italian way of saying: ‘The blanket is a little short,'” Stella, who is Italian, said of the car’s performance. “The work we are doing next year is to make this blanket a little bigger.”
McLaren’s improved performance has been complemented by more precise race operations and upgraded facilities. She made the quickest ever Formula 1 pit stop in October in Qatar, changing all four tires in just 1.80 seconds.
McLaren’s new wind tunnel, at its factory in Woking, England, became operational this summer, and is being used to develop the 2024 car. Having the tunnel at its headquarters will improve efficiency, as there will be no need to transport car components between it and the facility that McLaren has been leasing in Germany.
This is also a financial saving for McLaren in a cost cap era where teams must limit spending on their cars, meaning the money can be used elsewhere. A new composite materials facility was also recently opened, while a new simulator is being prepared.
McLaren has the youngest driver line-up in Formula 1 in Norris, 24, and Piastri, 22. Piastri was awarded a multi-year contract extension in September, and his attitude and poised personality as a rookie has impressed McLaren. Norris, who is at the end of his fifth season, has flourished as a top driver.
“I think we are now feeling more and more comfortable being at the top, and instead of referring to some other teams as the top teams, they are now our competitors,” Piastri said.
Norris is confident McLaren will continue to perform in 2024.
“We know we still have a lot of things to offer next year,” he said. “So I’m excited. I don’t want to think about it now, there’s no point in thinking about it until next year, but I’ll be optimistic, I think we can do it as a team.”