Only Lando Norris will use McLaren’s “milestone” Formula 1 car upgrade at the Austrian Grand Prix with both drivers getting an enhanced version of the package at Silverstone next weekend.
McLaren’s biggest upgrade so far this season is being introduced in several stages due to the quantity of parts and the team’s desire to use them as soon as possible.
The first half of the package will make its debut this weekend in Austria, and has already been spotted in the Red Bull Ring pitlane on Thursday.
It features significant sidepod and bodywork revisions as well as a new floor, albeit it’s been suggested by Norris that it won’t suddenly make McLaren the lead midfield team.
Austria is the earliest McLaren could design and produce the update, before two smaller instalments at the British and Hungarian GPs that needed more time to be readied.
Only Norris’s car will carry the first batch of new parts at the Red Bull Ring, with Oscar Piastri waiting until the next race at Silverstone – where both he and Norris will have around 75% of the full package. The rest will be used on both cars in Hungary.
The Austria split is so McLaren can have a major part of the upgrade plus spares available this weekend.
As the Austrian GP is a sprint weekend, parc ferme restrictions set in much earlier. Any change of specification from qualifying onwards would mean pitlane starts for both the sprint race on Saturday and Sunday’s grand prix.
If McLaren split the parts that are available across the two cars, it would risk an extremely costly penalty should anything get damaged.
Norris is both the much more experienced driver and highest-placed in the championship, so it is logical he would get the upgrade ahead of rookie Piastri.
“We’re excited, we’ve got upgrades on Lando’s car this weekend,” Piastri said in the pre-event press conference.
“The plan was to have it for both of us in Silverstone but the team have done a very good job of getting one set forward for this weekend.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how that performs, and of course, we’ve got a stable package on my side of the team, we know exactly what it’s capable of, so still try to get into the points and do what we can.”
“We weren’t meant to have any of this, really, for this weekend, it was all meant to come for Silverstone,” corroborated Norris.
“The fact we got, say, some of it, not even all of it, is already going to be a good step forward, especially with it being a sprint race, there’s maybe some opportunity to get points if we can – if it’s enough of a step – two times. Which is why we pushed so much and the team were able to deliver on getting some bits here early.”
An earlier upgrade package in Azerbaijan began a course-correction for McLaren, which had realised it was lagging with its floor design as part of the initial interpretations of F1’s ground-effect rules introduced last year.
That was still part of a body of work that began under the previous technical regime, though, whereas this package is from the new structure that was implemented in April when technical director James Key was ousted and a three-pronged organisation installed instead.
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella said the Red Bull Ring should be more favourable to the team but put more emphasis on the upgrades changing its competitive fortune.
“Ultimately, for us it is a milestone in terms of possibly turning around the season not only thanks to what we bring to Austria, but also thanks for what will follow in the next races,” said Stella after the previous race in Canada.
“So our hope, more than the characteristics of the track, is now on the car itself.
“Even if we have only one [practice] session, hopefully we’ll be able to validate the new package and from there move on into a more competitive situation.
“I’m banking on this package, but across three races in which we will introduce it. A few tenths of a second should be noticeable from a laptime point of view.”