MCLAREN CAN BEAT FERRARI IN 2020
The prestigious Scuderia seems out of reach. But the British brand, strong from its sporting past, learns and develops at the speed of its racing cars.
McLaren is back amongst Formula 1’s biggest teams. At least, temporarily and statistically.
Two races into the 2020 Formula 1 season and McLaren lies second in the constructors’ championship with a podium finish and a 100% scoring rate across both drivers, something only Mercedes can match.
A McLaren has started third in each of the opening grands prix, demonstrating impressive peak performance in its car, and Lando Norris has launched late-race charges in both races to earn plaudits by the bucket-loads.
It was, by almost any measure, a brilliant two weeks at the Red Bull Ring for McLaren. But as F1 shifts its attention to the Hungarian Grand Prix and a different challenge, focus must turn to whether McLaren can sustain this start.
“We had a good first two weekends of the year but I think they’re probably going to get tougher from now on,” Norris said after the Styrian Grand Prix.
“I don’t even think we have the fourth-best car, I think you have Mercedes, Red Bull, Racing Point. I think Ferrari are going to be a lot stronger the next few weekends.
“I think we made the best opportunity of this track, where it suits our car and we’re very strong, but it’s going to get very tough the next few weekends.”
There will be degradation no doubt. By this coming Sunday evening, McLaren will likely be back behind Red Bull in the championship. Yet its ambition should be to avoid falling further.
McLaren’s current position is flattered to a degree by circumstances, it’s true. But Norris is downplaying its prospects. McLaren should aim to beat Ferrari this season on merit.
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Ferrari has a Q3-marginal car at the moment, as evidenced by one of its drivers being knocked out in Q2 at both Red Bull Ring races. Even if we take Ferrari’s evident qualifying engine mode weakness out of the equation and allow for stronger performances on less power-sensitive circuits, that’s no guarantee it will suddenly leap clear of the others.
Its car is clearly flawed because it’s not the benchmark in the corners either. In the wet, Ferrari struggled. Sebastian Vettel complained of getting temperature in his tyres and that could be many things, but it wasn’t an issue McLaren suffered.
In fact, McLaren’s raw pace looks really strong. Circumstances have presented the opportunity for both Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr to each start a race from third on the grid, and Norris’s late-race charges in both grands prix add further weight to the theory that the McLaren’s potent on low fuel.
That Sainz was third-fastest in the wet also bodes well for the McLaren’s fundamental performance, suggesting it is working well mechanically and aerodynamically.
And while the Racing Points had blistering pace at times, with Sergio Perez even faster than Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes at some stages, Sainz was actually quite confident he’d have finished ahead without the pitstop problem that compromised his race.
“With a normal race we should’ve been able to stay ahead the whole race,” he insisted. “We just didn’t do it, so it meant they got ahead of us after the pitstops and then we couldn’t really fight them.
“It should’ve been an easy P5 today for me, after controlling the midfield in the first stint.”
We’ll come onto that lingering McLaren weakness shortly, but the Racing Point comparison is important. Racing Point, not Ferrari, might end up being McLaren’s biggest short-term threat.
The controversial ‘pink Mercedes’ is a rapid machine but a critic of Racing Point’s approach, holding a glass they consider half-full, would praise McLaren’s new technical structure headed by James Key for building a car that looks a match for last year’s title-winning machine.
McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl doesn’t think it looks that good for McLaren just yet but with a good platform and developments in the pipeline it has every reason to think it can go toe to toe with Racing Point and Ferrari all season.
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“It’s just a fact that this one-year-old Mercedes is simply a quick car, which is operated by a great team,” said Seidl of the Racing Point.
“And we know that the development we did over the winter we didn’t make the step to get to last year’s Mercedes, so if they extract the potential of this car it’s difficult for us to compete.
“Therefore it’s very important for us to simply make sure we keep developing our car, to keep improving it, and at the same time to maximise the opportunities which we did now in the first two races.”
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MCLAREN CAN BEAT FERRARI IN 2020 MCLAREN CAN BEAT FERRARI IN 2020 MCLAREN CAN BEAT FERRARI IN 2020
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