McLaren claims it now has a “clear plan” to improve its 2022 Formula 1 car after a difficult start to the season where it has slipped behind many of its midfield rivals.
The team battled “crispy” overheating brake problems during the second pre-season test, limited its mileage and hampering its early development work.
That translated into a miserable first two races of the year, with Lando Norris’ slightly fortuitous seventh place in Jeddah being the team’s only points.
McLaren performed better in Melbourne with both its cars reaching Q3, a qualifying result that was turned into a fifth and sixth place finish.
A points haul of 18 comfortably marked an improvement but Norris estimated 80% of that improvement was down to the track, with his team boss Andrea Seidl agreeing that layout played the biggest role, while “a small upgrade” that worked also helped the team’s cause.
Although light on specifics, Seidl also claimed the team has a “clear plan” to bring more performance to the MCL35.
“It was obviously important after realising that we are lacking performance, to analyse and do the studies to work out how we can improve performance as quickly as possible,” Seidl said when asked by The Race when McLaren expects to see fruits of its efforts to improve performance.
“I’m very happy saying that we have a clear plan in place now of what we need to do with the car in terms of making steps in terms of performance.
“This will take a bit of time. So we need to be patient despite all the ambition. But the most important thing is we have a clear plan that we execute now.
“In terms of when this is happening exactly, I don’t want to go too much into detail.
“There are different parameters you have to manage when you do that, there’s the cost cap, which you need to consider, there is the limited windtunnel time also that you have nowadays, which you need to consider.
“That’s why you need to package it a bit as well as what you’re doing.”
When asked by The Race if that analysis of its weaknesses was complete, Seidl replied that’s “it’s an ongoing process” but the team does have a clear idea of what they are.
Low-speed corners are where McLaren is particularly weak according to Seidl.
“If you look at the overlays from Bahrain we were missing grip and performance,” he commented in Australia.
“You can also see here on the overlays that’s where we are the weakest compared to the top cars.”
Norris doesn’t believe the team has taken a huge step with the car, believing its own performance level hasn’t really changed from the season-opening weekend.
“It’s been a tough start, there are good things with the car. It’s not all bad, there are some weak points, which are very weak and we really have to work on them,” Norris said last Sunday.
“But the strong points, like here things looked more positive.
“When you don’t have any points, it feels empty and like you’ve missed out. When you get points, it’s a lot more rewarding for myself, and also for the team.
“Bahrain was very tough, and I guess that set our expectations very low. Coming to some tracks that have suited us more and more, we’ve been able to fight for higher and higher places.
“We’ve made some small steps of progress, but a lot of it is just the circuit. The car is pretty much exactly the same as what it was in Bahrain, which is the problem.
“If we went back to Bahrain, we’d still struggle a lot so we have to work on these areas still, and if we want to be here a lot more often through this season, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Norris believes the next race at Imola – where he would have qualified third last year had he not exceeded the track limits – might not suit the McLaren quite as well the revised Albert Park venue did.
“Bit more unsure, maybe not as positive or hopeful as I have been this weekend or going into Saudi,” Norris said when asked about his prospects for Imola.
“But you never know, I think we can find something for the car and bring some small steps. We’ll see when we get there.”
His team-mate Ricciardo said he didn’t expect a result like McLaren secured in Australia to come so soon after a bruising Bahrain opener three weeks earlier.
On the team’s prospects for Imola, the eight-time grand prix winner said: “I think we should be OK, it’s another fast-flowing track, it seems to suit our car a bit better for now. Hopefully, that’s one where we can show good pace again.”