Why McLaren didn’t use its upgraded rear wing in Zandvoort

Jaden Diaz
30 Aug, 2023

Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly will be among the few who maximised their result in Zandvoort. Many other teams will have regrets after missing opportunities. Ferrari struggled even more than expected in terms of performance, although Sainz executed a very strong weekend with the machinery underneath him.

On the other hand, McLaren and Mercedes had encouraging pace – but failed to maximise it. The Woking team hoped to maintain their momentum at a Zandvoort circuit that – on paper – should have suited the MCL60.

The team’s progress showed again on Saturday, with Lando Norris finishing second in qualifying. However, points are scored on Sunday.

Strategy made the difference: McLaren and Mercedes missed out

In terms of pace, the MCL60 and the W14 were significantly faster than the SF-23, which (specifically at Zandvoort) was at a similar level to Alpine and Williams.

This high-load circuit, coupled with uncertain weather, could have been the perfect ingredients to allow Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri to secure a big result and even take a podium place. The result, however, was extremely disappointing compared to expectations and the start of the weekend itself.

In qualifying, Lando Norris showed the MCL60’s good balance at the Dutch track, placing the car behind the seemingly unstoppable Max Verstappen in the RB19.

Oscar Piastri, however, made a mistake on the last lap of Q3, failing to extract the potential shown by his teammate. On Sunday, however, the chaos brought by the rain and the strategies changed everything.

At the start of the race, there were crucial moments where the Grand Prix was – in many ways – decided. While Carlos Sainz and his garage made the right calls, Lando Norris found himself ‘arguing’ with his race engineer.

Lando Norris with old spec rear wing

At Zandvoort, as well as at Silverstone, the Englishman was assisted by Jose Manuel Lopez, normally his pit side performance engineer. He replaced Will Joseph, Norris’ race engineer, as McLaren rotated staff between different roles.

The relationship is not the same with both, and this was seen when Norris immediately asked to rejoin. His race engineer, however, asked him to stay out and keep the car on track. 

By the third lap, it was now too late to rejoin, but the bickering continued, with Lopez reporting to Norris that he was “faster than those who ride the Intermediates”.

However, Norris decided to stop, responding abruptly to his engineer and entering the pits. Such tension is understandable in these high-stress situations.

“I don’t want to comment or add anything because I’m not good at these things, and it would only end up in the headlines,” the British McLaren driver said after the race. 

Nothing that hasn’t already been seen in Formula 1. The problem is that this delay in making the pit stop put Norris from the top positions to the back of the grid, ruining his race. 

With Oscar Piastri, on the other hand, McLaren tried an even more extreme strategy – staying out with the Softs even in those moments where the Inters were necessary, wasting further time.

Those who pitted early lapped 20 seconds faster, creating a gap only a Safety Car could recover.

“In those moments, you have to bet and get back, but it’s easy when you have nothing to lose,” commented Andrea Stella.

“We hesitated and delayed the stop by one lap with Lando and lost a lot of time,” concluded the Italian engineer, admitting his mistake.

Piastri tested the new rear wing, but McLaren opted not to use it at Zandvoort

At Zandvoort, a new beam wing made its debut – and so did a rear wing. This design featured elements of a different design and a cut in the upper endplate, which follows the trend of the latest updates by many teams.

The aim of these changes was to ensure better overall efficiency, eliminate resistance to advancement, and renounce the load produced by the various elements.

The papaya team had limited data, collected only with Oscar Piastri during Friday practice – while Norris used the old high/very high load specification, showing that the work carried out in Woking had produced positive results. 

Oscar Piastri with the new rear wing recognizable by the different edge of the mobile flap and the different shape of the two wing profiles

The new wing was therefore not rejected, but the decision not to use it for the rest of the weekend was mainly dictated by the weather forecast and by the fact that Mclaren thought it was better overall for the continuation of the appointment.

In qualifying, this paid off, but in the race, mainly due to incorrect strategy, this additional resistance made Norris and Piastri’s car one of the slowest on the straight, making overtaking difficult.

The team aimed not to get stuck in traffic behind the lines for most of the GP, without even using the DRS, as happened later in the race.

In retrospect, one might think that McLaren made another wrong choice in terms of configuration after Spa. However, precisely in comparison to the Belgian GP, ​​the choices on the pit wall weighed more negatively.

Authors: Piergiuseppe Donadoni & Paolo D’Alessandro

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang




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