McLaren: “Ambitious” upgrades can compensate for slow start

After spending last season fighting for the unofficial title of ‘best of the rest’, McLaren will be disappointed with their start to the 2023 F1 season.

The Woking squad suffered various issues at the Bahrain GP, ​​forcing Oscar Piastri to retire and Lando Norris to complete a total of 6 pit stops, eliminating him from points-scoring contention.

Ignoring these reliability issues (which also impacted McLaren’s running during pre-season testing), the performance of the MCL60 was reasonable – albeit underwhelming – in Bahrain.

Andrea Stella has pointed towards the encouraging pace Lando Norris showed during the Grand Prix, although this was overshadowed by the persistent problems with his car.

In any case, whilst McLaren’s current pace should be enough to compete for points, the team has lost ground to the front and been jumped by Aston Martin in the development race.

Oscar Piastri in action in Bahrain.

Zak Brown and Lando Norris have previously outlined the team’s ambition to fight for podiums, and race wins in 2024/25.

With this in mind, a significant haul of mid-season updates will be necessary for this objective to seem attainable.

Andrea Stella has spoken about McLaren’s delayed start with the MCL60, which the team hopes to compensate for in the upcoming rounds:

“I think testing confirmed that, at the moment, we are a midfield car. The midfield is proving to be quite compact,” Stella explained to the media in Bahrain.

“A couple of tenths can move you to the top; a couple of tenths and you can be at the bottom of the midfield.

“I think for us, the focus is to maximize the package in the short term, but at the same time focus on delivering our upgrade programme. It is ambitious.

“It should unleash quite a lot of lap time over the course of the season.”

McLaren MCL60 in action in Bahrain, with flow viz in the central area on the sides of the driver's cockpit.
McLaren MCL60 in action in Bahrain, with flow viz in the central area on the sides of the driver’s cockpit.

McLaren has emphasized the role mid-season development will play since the start of 2023, with Andrea Stella stressing the importance of recovering in the second half of the season.

The MCL60 machine that competed in Bahrain was largely the result of McLaren’s failure to introduce many of its intended updates in time for the first round.

Therefore, with Jeddah, Australia and Baku incoming, McLaren has the opportunity to show if they are capable of making a significant jump in terms of performance.

However, as is always the case in F1, progression is relative – so the Woking squad’s improvements could be denied by other teams, who will also be introducing new updates.

McLaren’s team principal has also outlined the importance of investing in improved facilities and infrastructure:

“The main difference I found (at McLaren compared to Ferrari) actually still persists. I think it’s the size of the infrastructure, the size of the workforce, which is obviously quite a lot larger at my previous team. 

“But we are working on it. There’s a lot of investment going on at McLaren to fill this gap – in terms of infrastructure and workforce.”

Unsurprisingly, there is a sense of urgency at McLaren to resolve a combination of short and long-term challenges.

A good points haul in Saudi Arabia could provide some much-needed stability at Woking and kick-start the team’s 2023 campaign.

However, the greater test for McLaren will be throughout the season and whether their development program will be enough to make them a threat to the team further up the order.