Can McLaren put Red Bull under pressure? Analysis

Jaden Diaz, Giuliano Duchessa

Lando Norris won his first race with authority, fending off Verstappen and Leclerc in the final 25 laps. For the first time in 2024, Verstappen’s Red Bull was beaten on the track. McLaren was the fastest team on race day in Miami. A well-timed Safety Car offset his tricky qualifying and gave Lando Norris a golden opportunity to win.

Despite a messy Friday and Saturday, the Englishman showed that the updates introduced by the engineers of Andrea Stella and Rob Marshall – at least in America – have immediately improved the car’s range of settings and straight-line speeds. The improvement at Miami was quantifiable at 4-tenths per lap for Norris’s car and 1.5-tenths for Piastri.

The chronic problem at low speeds has been further mitigated. However, it still loses something in the slow sections, which require a lot of steering angle, albeit not as much as in previous races. In Qualifying the losses were around a tenth compared to Red Bull. During the race, the deficit widened ‘only’ to two-tenths.

The Woking car also improved aerodynamically, with more overall efficiency, which allowed Norris and Piastri to be more dangerous than Ferrari on the straights. The massive package, which seems to have eliminated some old defects such as drag, will also be present entirely on Piastri’s car in Imola and can be further optimized and understood in these two weeks of break. In Emilia Romagna, McLaren could surprise again, considering the unfavourable characteristics of the track.

Ferrari carried out a good test with an SF-24 still in the ‘Bahrain version’ and was able to limit and reduce the gap from Verstappen to just one-tenth, confirming the performance shown in qualifying. It was a good weekend from an exclusive performance point of view, and Leclerc’s podium was not stolen.
Sainz was ahead of Norris, but SC’s timing doomed him. The judges penalized him again for a slip on Piastri.  The Maranello car was largely at Verstappen’s level, however it was overtaken in the ‘race pace’ by the updated McLaren on a track that was previously more favorable to the Red.
The engineers’ approach was to focus on the corners in support, the degradation of the tires was zero, both Leclerc and Sainz were the fastest in the medium and high speed section of the first sector, only to then lose more in the more slow especially with a lot of fuel on board.
The SF-24 and MCL38 still suffer from rapid direction changes in the first half of the race, i.e. the lateral shift of the load when the cars are at maximum weight. Red Bull makes the difference right there. The first two corners and the chicane of the second sector rewarded Max Verstappen until the last part of the race when the cars became lighter.
Despite the heat, the main problem for the Red was to ‘switch on’ the tyres at the start of the stint, both on the medium and hard tyres: in the first phase, the delay compared to Verstappen was around two-tenths, and then gradually equalled the pace of the Dutch world champion.