Whilst it was Aston Martin that claimed the glory at the beginning of 2023, the biggest success story by the chequered flag at Abu Dhabi will almost certainly be McLaren.
The Woking-based outfit began the season in poor form, with Lando Norris completing a catastrophic six pit-stops in the first round. Reliability aside, the MCL60 lacked the performance to fight anywhere near the podium places.
However, this was not a surprise for Andrea Stella and his technical team. During the MCL60’s official car launch, McLaren admitted that development targets were missed over winter. According to Stella, mid-season development would be the team’s saving grace.
There were small improvements in Australia and Baku, where the panic from Bahrain was somewhat calmed. Then again, disastrous weekends such as Miami were evidence that plenty of work still needed to be completed.
It was at the Austrian GP that McLaren introduced its first significant upgrade package of 2023. The personnel at the factory worked diligently so the updates could arrive ahead of schedule at Spielberg – albeit only on Lando Norris’ car.
Almost immediate success was found in Austria, as Norris secured a season-best 4th place. Subsequent events in Britain and Hungary confirmed that Andrea Stella’s forecast from pre-season was highly accurate.
In more recent events, McLaren has made further progress in solving its fundamental weaknesses. At the Japanese GP, for example, Norris and Piastri registered some of the highest speeds in the speed trap. For a team with among the worst levels of drag to start 2023, this data represents a phenomenal step forward.
Additionally, unlike their immediate rivals, McLaren is working with a strong foundation to build upon for next season. The car shows no fundamental problems and is also capable of performing at a demanding track like Suzuka – which demands a well-rounded machine that can perform in all aspects.
New Development Facilities
More good news has arrived for the British outfit with the completion of its new wind tunnel facility. In a sport where the latest technologies can make a difference, the McLaren Technology Centre now enjoys among the newest simulator and wind tunnel infrastructure in F1.
Speaking after the summer break, Andrea Stella outlined that the transition to this new equipment has been smooth:
“We started working on developing the 2023 car in the new wind tunnel, and this process has been very smooth, to be honest.
“We were ready to face some anomalies and scratch out heads. But in reality, it has been a really good continuity.”
The McLaren team boss is correct to identify that transitioning to a new facility can take an adjustment period. Thankfully, at least for now, the newest changes have not interrupted the development path at Woking.
To be clear, there are still some question marks that must be addressed over winter and in 2024. For example, in spite of their heroic mid-season improvement – McLaren must prove it can deliver a package that can compete from the first race.
Additionally, in a field where Red Bull dominates, the papaya team must prove they can become Championship contenders – even as a customer team.