McLaren’s Formula 1 car finally gets a much-anticipated upgrade at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as the team bids to start fixing its weaknesses and salvage its 2023 targets.
The Baku package has been talked about since pre-season as a significant step for the car as it is essentially what McLaren needed at the Bahrain Grand Prix, so better represented the development direction it wanted to head in for 2023.
It was painted as the start of getting McLaren’s season on track and a first step towards the goal of being a top four team (or car) by the end of the year.
But then the reality of the first few races laid the deficit bare and, coupled with Aston Martin leaping out of the midfield, it became clear that McLaren faces a challenge to get ahead of Alpine for fifth, let alone be fourth-best.
The MCL60’s first facelift is unlikely to completely transform its competitive prospects, and McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have expressed cautious outlooks ahead of the weekend, which fits with a narrative that has gradually managed expectations more since Bahrain.
“It was made clear and obvious very early on in the season that what we have now is what we wanted at the start of the year,” said Norris in Baku on Thursday.
“A lot of other teams also have upgrades, so our job is to try to bring slightly bigger things, try to play a little bit of catch-up.
“What we have this weekend is probably just the baseline we should’ve started the year with, and it’s about understanding what we have now.
“It’s a better baseline, there’s more room for opportunities and more room for improvements with what we have. So, it’s something that will make us take a small step forward.
“I’m excited. The team has done a very good job to bring these things through and get ready.”
The significant floor revision with changes from the front to the back of its surface geometry is the first of three major upgrade packages McLaren has planned for this season.
Piastri says that the expectation is for the upgrade not to change the balance of the car but to improve its performance – so the handling characteristics will be similar, the car should just have a higher ceiling.
“I don’t think it should impact the behaviour of the car too much,” said Piastri.
“We’ve obviously gone through with the engineers and the aero guys back at the factory where we’re expecting to find time.
“But it shouldn’t drastically change the balance of the car from what we anticipate.”
This upgrade is the result of work conducted under the previous technical regime, headed by ex-technical director James Key, which has since been overhauled because McLaren felt it was not good enough at generating unique ideas or producing upgrades as quickly as necessary.
But in Key’s time in charge, McLaren proved quite adept at catching up with rivals and replicating good ideas from other cars, so it should be reasonably confident that this upgrade will result in a decent step.
And as the floor development will likely continue in this direction it is important to validate that it works as expected so that further upgrades can be fruitful.
“The point of it being what we want to start the season with is still very true,” said Piastri.
“There’s going to be other teams that have upgrades as well, we’re not going to be the only ones on the grid. So, there’ll be plenty of other teams that go quicker as well.
“For us it’s sort of the first step in many for the year, it’s not going to be a magic bullet that gets us to the top of the grid.
“It should be a moderate step of performance. How much that is compared to the rest of the field, we’ll find out tomorrow.”