McLaren’s season relies on Baku upgrade
McLaren is not expected to perform well at the Bahrain Grand Prix, as their hopes for the 2023 season are reliant on an upgrade package that is scheduled to be implemented in Baku.
According to Lando Norris, the upcoming upgrade package will bring McLaren’s car up to the level it should have been at the beginning of the season in order to fulfill the team’s ambitions.
Last week, during the testing, McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown acknowledged that the team had failed to achieve some of its development goals. Following that, the team principal Andrea Stella confirmed that the primary area where they fell short was in the aerodynamic efficiency, which was the result of a change in development direction that occurred late last year.
The upgrade package set to be introduced in Baku will incorporate the change in development direction, and the team is optimistic that it will unlock a substantial increase in performance and long-term potential. However, for now, McLaren seems to be stuck in the midfield, with Lando Norris estimating that their car loses between 0.1-0.2s to the top-performing cars on the straights.
When asked by The Race whether the upcoming upgrade package represents the real start of the season for McLaren due to the significant change it brings, Lando Norris responded, “I hope so.”
Lando Norris expressed caution about making too many predictions before the upgrade package arrives, as he is aware of the unpredictable nature of Formula 1. However, he acknowledged that the season effectively begins now, and despite wanting to believe it could start later, they are already behind where they should be.
Lando Norris emphasized that the upgrade package set to be introduced in Baku is what they should have started the season with if they wanted to be a top team. He believes that the parts coming in the upgrade should have been available from the beginning of the season.
Lando Norris acknowledged that until the upgrade package arrives, the team will have to do their best with what they have. He recognizes that other teams have similar objectives and challenges. However, regardless of their current position, whether it be 10th or 15th, the team remains optimistic that they can make progress later on in the season.
Lando Norris’s low expectations for the first three races of the season are not due to the performance of the car during pre-season testing, as it performed as expected. Instead, his cautious approach is due to the change in development direction that the team had to make, which could potentially impact their performance in the early races.
According to Lando Norris, he was already aware that the beginning of this season would be challenging towards the end of the previous season. Therefore, he was not taken by surprise by the team’s current situation.
Lando Norris revealed that he realized about three months ago that the team’s current situation was going to be challenging. At that point, the team had already determined the type of car they were going to have and the amount of downforce they could expect to achieve.
Lando Norris remains optimistic that McLaren will have a better start to this season compared to the previous one, which is a step in the right direction. However, the team is still not satisfied with their current situation.
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Lando Norris believes that McLaren is currently the fifth, sixth, or seventh-best team on the grid. However, the team’s objective is to take steps forward rather than backwards and continue to improve throughout the season.
Lando Norris anticipates that the performance spread in the midfield pack will be more competitive and compact this season, which could work in McLaren’s favor once the upgrades are introduced. The team hopes to make quick progress and improve their position in the standings as the season progresses.
Until the upgrades are implemented, McLaren is struggling with a car that is deficient in downforce, which is a significant drawback when it comes to being a midfield-leading car. Additionally, the team is struggling with balance, which is further complicating their performance on the track.
The problem with balance was apparent during the testing, where the McLaren car looked like one of the more challenging cars to drive. This suggests that the team is still grappling with the car’s setup and handling, which is making it difficult for the drivers to extract maximum performance.
According to Lando Norris, there are two main issues with the car’s deficiencies: the general balance and the overall downforce. The team is currently trying to address both of these issues to improve the car’s performance.
Lando Norris explained that improving the overall downforce of the car can solve around 90% of the issues they are currently facing. However, to make significant progress, they also need to address other factors that contribute to the car’s performance.
Lando Norris believes that McLaren is in a reasonably good position to start the season, although he is unsure of their specific ranking compared to other teams. He acknowledged that the team is facing similar limitations to last year but feels that they have a clearer plan on how to address those limitations this season.
Last season, McLaren faced different problems that were related to brake cooling, which restricted the team’s running during the testing in Bahrain. However, by the time the Bahrain Grand Prix came around, they had an interim solution in place, and they were able to score points in the second race in Saudi Arabia. The team also had a strong showing in the Australian Grand Prix, with Lando Norris and teammate Daniel Ricciardo finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. This performance helped McLaren re-emerge as a contender for fourth place in the constructors’ championship, a position they ultimately lost to Alpine.
This year, McLaren’s development direction is clear, with all hopes pinned on the upgrade that is set to be introduced at the end of April. Lando Norris remains optimistic that the upgrade will enable the team to aim for a top-four finish in the constructors’ championship this year.
According to Lando Norris, the team’s primary objective for the season is to execute the plan they have in place, which includes meeting their targets and numbers. He believes that the team has most of what they need to achieve their goals.
Lando Norris acknowledged that the team is expecting to receive a new wind tunnel and simulator, which will help them take another step forward in their development. However, in the meantime, the team needs to make the most of what they already have and try to make progress throughout the season. The objective is to end the season in a better position than where they started and see progress from the upgrades that are coming.
Lando Norris reiterated that the team’s goal is to end the season as a top-four team, which would give them a significant confidence boost going into the 2024 season. He believes that achieving this objective would help the team build momentum and carry forward the progress made into the future.
The key message that Lando Norris conveyed is the team’s need to make the most of what they already have. The commitment he has shown to the team until the end of 2025 was based on the assumption that the major infrastructure projects, such as the new wind tunnel and simulator, would enhance the team’s potential and help it re-emerge as a frontrunner.
If the upcoming upgrade package in Baku fails to deliver as expected, it could threaten McLaren’s timeline for re-emerging as a frontrunning force. However, if the upgrade is successful in improving the car’s performance, the team still has 20 races remaining to make up for any lost ground early on in the season. The outcome of the Baku upgrade will be crucial in determining McLaren’s potential for the rest of the season.
For McLaren, the first three races of the 2023 season are crucial, as they will act as an extension of the pre-season testing. The team will try to make the best of what they have and aim to secure a few points. However, the success of the Baku upgrade will likely define the team’s performance for the rest of the year and even in the years to follow. It will demonstrate the depth of the team’s understanding of aerodynamics, which is essential in Formula 1.
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