McLaren expect to be on the defensive in China

Jaden Diaz

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella warns that the MCL38 will be poorly suited to round five of the season in China. Rather than looking to pressure Red Bull or Ferrari, the Woking-based team might be looking over their shoulder. Aston Martin should be more competitive at the Shanghai International circuit, owing to its low-speed sections. This will be especially notable in qualifying when McLaren could pay dearly for having a relatively poor DRS system. In many ways, as explained by Stella, this weekend will be an exercise in damage limitation.

McLaren can be relatively content with their position at the beginning of 2024. They are quite comfortably the third-fastest team, a position reflected by the date and the constructors’ standings. In many ways, they have consolidated their rapid mid-season development from last season. For the foreseeable future, they will be an important player at the front.

Unfortunately for the papa squad, Ferrari has made greater steps forward over the winter. Much like last season, the MCL38 will need a rigorous development plan to progress. The positive this time, of course, is the team’s foundation is far stronger.

Still, Andrea Stella wants the team to be less track-sensitive in its performance:

“I think where I’m a little bit more prudent about China is that there’s so much low-speed,” motorsportweek quotes him as saying.

“And so many hairpins that definitely should not be the best track for us at this stage of the season. 

“Hopefully, we’ll, you know, we won’t be talking too much about the car layout at the end of the season,” explained the McLaren team principal.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Thanks to a strong driver pairing, McLaren has a substantial points cushion over Mercedes and Aston Martin. Broadly speaking, Norris and Piastri have maximised the package at their disposal.

Still, it is imperative that last year’s momentum does not dissipate. Unlike last season, Ferrari, Red Bull and – potentially after Suzuka’s upgrades – Aston Martin are relatively consistent across different track layouts.

This means that Stella’s personnel could lose out on circuits where the MCL38’s weaknesses are exposed.