Latecomers to the podium in four races: What is McLaren’s true form?

After emerging from the first pre-season test in Barcelona looking to be Ferrari’s main rival, he then endured a difficult few weeks in the Middle East.

A disastrous Bahrain try, triggered by unexpected brake problems, was followed by an equally miserable start to the season when he scored no points.

High hopes of building on their best tag in 2021, the season suddenly looked like it would be ultra tough for the Woking-based side.

Signs of progress in Saudi Arabia, and even better form in Australia with double points for Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, were attributed to tracks better suited to the MCL36.

But then at Imola, a circuit where the team performed well last year, Norris handed him a podium as the team’s campaign was much more upbeat.

McLaren started on the back foot in Bahrain, struggling against Williams outside the points

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

With such a rollercoaster of ups and downs, it’s been hard to understand where McLaren’s true form lies – and how much of its form is due to more favorable circuits, and how much to the package.

But for McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl the feeling within the squad is that the recent pace is actually the most realistic picture – and it’s the Bahrain crisis that stands out from the norm. .

“My assessment is that if you look back at how everything has gone since the first test in Barcelona, ​​then I think we had a decent test in Barcelona, ​​with a car that basically worked,” he explained. .

“Then we obviously had this big setback, losing all those laps in Bahrain testing, which then had consequences, I think, for the Bahrain race weekend. because of a compromise solution for the brakes, but also because of the loss of all those laps and the ideal preparation to start the season in a completely new car.

“With having the race in the same place where the test took place, everyone got so much experience and I think that made us look significantly worse than we actually are with the package.

“Then I think going to Jeddah and then going to Melbourne, I think the more laps we did, the more time we had, and we could recover from all the laps we lost in the test. C That’s why I think part of our performance just came down to the package that was there anyway.

What the extra time to drive the car has given McLaren, however, is a level of confidence that there is far more potential in the MCL36 than was shown in Bahrain.

“I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with this car,” Seidl added. “At the same time, it’s clear that when you look at the performance gap that you have, with a weekend like in Melbourne, you’re lacking in performance, and that’s why we’re working hard to bring some performance.

“I really think with the current package and the little improvements we’ve already made since Bahrain, we have a car that’s good to fight for the top 10, and good to fight for points every weekend.

“That is the objective for the moment, while in parallel we are working on the evolutions that we wish to bring in the future.”

Lando Norris grabbed a podium in race four at Imola

Lando Norris grabbed a podium in race four at Imola

Photo by: Erik Junius

Norris’ podium at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix certainly owes a bit to the misfortune of others – with Ferrari enduring a nightmarish day, as Carlos Sainz was out on the first lap and Charles Leclerc threw a top three with a one-on-one. -late tail.

Nonetheless, both of its drivers are confident that recent experiences with the car show that the struggle at the front of the midfield pack – with Alpine, Haas, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes – is something that can be anticipated now.

Because rather than the best recent races being the result of major changes to the car, Norris is convinced that the team has simply gotten a better handle on its package.

“I think what we’re seeing now more and more is that Bahrain was a bit more outlier compared to the last few weekends,” the Briton explained. “It was still the reality at the time.

“I think a lot of what we’ve seen is still on the car. But we’ve just figured it out more, we’re extracting more from the car for sure. It’s just that we worked on the weaknesses and that we have made some improvements, and it shows a lot. There are a lot of positives.

“But I think we’re not comfortably the third fastest car today, I would say. Some of those things in Bahrain are still on the car, and we’re trying to figure some of it out. We focused on the majority of them and made some improvements, and I think that’s why we’re better now.

McLaren is keeping its MCL36 update plans close to its chest as it sets out to bring more downforce and reduce the weight of the car in future races.

But judging by the progress made so far in 2022, could the team even now find that its current momentum brings it closer to Red Bull and Ferrari?

Ricciardo thinks that might be a bit too optimistic.

“Don’t get me wrong, at least sitting here today, of course, it’s a bit of an optimistic ambition to be better than this third-best team, because the first two are a good step forward,” he said. -he declares.

“But I think there’s still a lot to learn with these cars, and naturally not just us, but every team will bring updates. And even a team like Mercedes with their philosophy, maybe that comes to life in some time this season.

“I think there’s a lot of room for development and improvements, not those one-tenths and two-tenths improvements. I think there’s potential for the bigger four, five-tenths.

“Listen it’s still ambitious because Red Bull and Ferrari are going to keep growing so the target is always going to shift. But yeah I’m still let’s say definitely more glass half full we can still find something maybe a little more at some point.

For Seidl, the focus is on just trying to get the consistency that can help him fight for third place, rather than trying to dream he can be up there with Max. Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.

“The gap we have between Red Bull and Ferrari is huge and these guys won’t stand still,” he explained.

“So regardless of how this season started and where we are now, we know exactly where we are as a team. Compared to those guys, we always know the deficits we have, so there is no magic.

“But we all want to be ambitious. We wake up in the morning because we want to fight these guys and give it our all, fight a good fight.

“We try to find shortcuts, but sometimes you have to be realistic. That’s how I see it, and we’re going to give it our all.

“I hope there will be other races similar to previous years, where certain characteristics of the car suddenly reverse the pecking order for one or two races as we saw in Monza for example last year. It could happen this year, and it would be great.

“But the most important thing for me is that we are moving forward, continuously, that we are putting our infrastructure in place to make sure that we get to the point in a few years to fight for race wins every race weekend. “

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