Lando Norris doubts McLaren’s major Formula 1 car upgrade will be enough to vault Alpine in the pecking order even though he calls it “a lot more of a pure performance” gain.
McLaren is significantly revising its MCL60 with a three-stage introduction of new parts, half of which will be on Norris’s car in the Austrian Grand Prix.
There will be a further part of the upgrade next week at the British Grand Prix, where Oscar Piastri will also have use of the upgrade, and it will be completed at the following race in Hungary.
It follows a floor upgrade in Azerbaijan earlier this year that McLaren originally hoped to start the season with as it marked the beginning of a new development direction.
The Austria upgrade, which features significant sidepod and bodywork revisions as well as a new floor, is much more expansive and designed to unleash more potential from the car, although Norris has suggested it will not suddenly make McLaren the lead midfield team – having trailed Alpine all season.
“Alpine have been extremely quick this year,” he said. “They’ve just made a lot of mistakes, they’ve had a lot of problems at times.
“But they’re fighting Astons, they’re fighting Ferraris, through many of the races.
“We’re a little bit surprised that we could keep up with them in Montreal, maybe it seemed one of their weaker weekends of the season. But apart from that, they’ve done a very good job.
“I would say no one’s complemented what they have been able to do. So, I doubt we’ll be able to maybe match them.
“It depends how they are this weekend. But I doubt it. They’ve been doing a very good job.
“They have one of the best cars, definitely the best of the midfield by quite a long way. But they are quite a big step ahead.
“Hopefully, we can at least get close to them. And if they’re not as quick as what they normally are, then maybe we can have a race with them too.”
Alpine’s one-lap pace this season has been closer to Aston Martin and Mercedes ahead of it than to McLaren behind.
A comparison of their respective ‘supertimes’, the method of comparing each team’s fastest laps from each grand prix weekend as a percentage of the outright fastest, puts McLaren 0.406% further adrift than Alpine.
Leading teams’ supertimes:
The Austria package has been called a “milestone” in McLaren’s recovery this season and is the first body of work completed under the new three-pronged technical leadership structure that was implemented in April when technical director James Key was ousted.
Norris admitted it is “what we would have wanted in Baku” had the team started the season in better shape, but believes it represents a “clear direction” McLaren now has to develop in.
“Really [the Baku upgrade] was more trying to add the philosophy in and making sure that it worked and using that as the baseline,” Norris said.
“Rather than saying after Baku, ‘from every race on we’re going to go quicker because of that floor’.
“That’s why I call this one a lot more of a pure performance upgrade rather than what we had back then.”
The sprint format this weekend complicates McLaren’s introduction of the upgrade because it means there is only one practice session before qualifying on Friday, which gives little time to evaluate the new parts and locks teams into their set-up choices for the rest of the event.
Norris expects that to result in a lot of lessons McLaren can then apply for future races but is still of the view the team will get “a decent enough read here” to know how effective the upgrade is.
He expects an immediate gain and the incoming additions at Silverstone and the Hungaroring to improve performance as well.
“The steps will just add to it rather than it not working as it should [without the whole package arriving at once],” he said.
“What we have can still work on his own. Regardless of if we have everything that we have for the next few weeks or not.
“It should just make it quicker, I’m hoping.
“Of course, there’s something’s going to be different in how we set up with aero balance and mechanical balance and just all these compromises you always have to make when you change things.
“But nothing should be abnormal.”