Since the launch of the MCL60 last February, the Woking team has never hidden the difficulties encountered in the winter development phase of the new single-seater, claiming that it has not achieved the objectives that the technical group had set itself.
Clearly it was a big disappointment, almost like a cold shower for a team that hoped to recover after an ups and downs 2022. However, for the team it also represented a bath of humility and realism, well aware that the objectives for the start of the championship would have focused not so much on consistently reaching the points zone, a target in itself almost unrealistic given the competition, but on finding that direction of development that could bring considerable benefits in the medium and long term.
In the meantime, an internal revolution has been going on at McLaren which has led to the farewell of technical director James Key (who will work for Sauber from next year), followed by the excellent arrivals of David Sanchez from Ferrari and the expert Rob Marshall from Red Bull, thus strengthening the working group that will take care of the next projects. It is not only a choice aimed at hiring staff with new ideas and proposals, but also at defining a better structured organization to unlock the team’s potential.
Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri AT04
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
In anticipation of their arrival, clearly McLaren has moved forward with the 2023 single-seater development, starting to introduce the first packages of updates to cure the weak points of the MCL60. The first substantial innovations arrived at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a package which, according to the Woking-based team leaders themselves, should have represented the solutions with which the car should have presented itself at the start of the championship.
However, after an excellent performance in Baku, which ended in a precious ninth place, another cold shower arrived in Miami which highlighted the weaknesses of the car. After the race, Lando Norris had tried to explain that the disappointing result was above all due to the peculiarities of the track, not very suitable for the car: “The track is not suitable for us, the longer corners are not suitable for us, the temperature is not suits us, the track surface is not suitable for us. There are many different aspects.”
The atypical appointment in Monte Carlo took place between Miami and Barcelona, where also in that case a strange behavior of the MCL60 took place: good over the flying lap, with a driver in the top ten, but fluctuating race pace. In the dry, both Norris and Piastri had not hidden their bitterness at not being able to keep up with Yuki Tsunoda’s pace, but with the arrival of the rain, the situation completely reversed, so much so that both McLaren standard bearers were among the fastest on the track.
Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
With the calendar moving away from the street circuits that dominated the start of the season to the conventional Barcelona circuit last weekend, Stella felt the Spanish GP circuit provided insight into why this car’s moody attitude.
“On this behavior, I think it’s almost the opposite of what happens in qualifying compared to what happens in the race. We don’t have to look only at the aerodynamic behavior of the car, even if we know we have to take a step forward from that point of view. But it is clear that we also need to make our tires work better during the race ”.
“That was already clear enough, but this weekend I think we took the two extremes of being competitive in qualifying, with no problems with warm-up when some were talking about warm-up to our surprise. In the race we had a lack of wheelbase, while others, like Mercedes, had very good degradation. This is the main result.”
So far McLaren has struggled with the warmer temperatures, as already demonstrated for example in Miami, but cooler qualifying due to the rain and clouds that had covered the track helped to reach third place. A position which, however, had not come as an absolute surprise, given that in the second free practice session Norris could have set an excellent time if it hadn’t been for a mistake in turn 11 due to the loss of the rear; in fact, putting together his best partials it was clear how the MCL60 could have the potential to get a good result.
Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
If the new tire helped mask some of the car’s weak points, over the long haul that effect disappeared and the higher temperatures recorded on Sunday amplified the difficulties: “In qualifying the conditions were very particular, suitable for our car in exceptional way. Also, I think some of our competitors didn’t give their all. So, I think they weren’t representative of the order of priority.”
“With the warmer conditions and not having new tyres, we no longer had enough pace. We experienced quite a lot of tire degradation, which may just be the counterpart to the fact that the car seems to prepare the new tires so well.”
“Obviously it’s something we need to improve if we want to stay in the race in warmer conditions,” added the Team Principal.