On day five of six in 2020 Formula 1 testing Lando Norris gave the McLaren MCL35 its most competitive showing of pre-season to date.
Using the hard C2 tyre he lapped in 1m17.585s in the morning on a low fuel run that, correcting to the equivalent tyre, puts the car roughly on a par with what the Racing Point has so far shown, albeit still around 1s adrift of Mercedes.
That at least moved McLaren up the unofficial testing performance chart. Norris followed that up with a part race simulation, in which he caught and passed Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa-Romeo doing a similar programme.
“In these cars, you can feel a leaf blow by off the pitwall” :: Lando Norris
Although this suggests McLaren is in the mix for ‘best of the rest’, an unofficial title it comfortably won last year, Norris is hoping for more.
“I managed to do a few of the new tyre runs with the fuel load, which is still reasonable and competitive let’s say,” he said.
“I’m still pushing and we’re trying to mimic a qualifying-type situation so I got a feeling for pushing on the tyre a lot and doing one laps.
“It’s good information, learning; [but] there’s still plenty of things we have to work on…”
The technical developments from last year’s car to this were designed to energise the aerodynamics to give more airflow capacity from the rear of the car and thereby allow the use of a more outboard-loaded front wing.
In theory the resultant downforce boost at both ends would allow the car to be run in a wider operating window, making it both faster and more consistent.
The windy conditions of the day made Norris’s first concerted attempt at finding the car’s limit tricky.
“I don’t think there’s any area where we’re as competitive as Mercedes. So if I want to be that harsh, it’s not good enough in any area, but we have made progress” :: Lando Norris
“You can walk outside and see how windy it is but on track in these cars, you can feel a leaf blow by off the pitwall and I feel it going down the straights, it’s that bad.
“As the day went on [the wind] got worse and the car becomes tricky, more unpredictable lap to lap. The later we did the lap, the worse the conditions were so there was potential for it to have been better.”
So, where does he believe the McLaren stacks up as things stand?
“It depends what I compare to. I’m happy with some areas and it has improved compared to last year in those areas. [But] in some areas it’s not moved on as much as I would’ve liked.
“Areas it’s not good at compared to Mercedes, which is the fastest… probably at everything. I don’t think there’s any area where we’re as competitive as Mercedes.
“So if I want to be that harsh, it’s not good enough in any area, but we have made progress.
“In terms of consistency of the car from one lap to another, when the wind is not terrible, being able to push on the car in the long runs, it’s just been nicer to drive, less on edge, less peaky let’s say.
“It’s just a bit more stable and consistent. You’re still pushing and you’re on.., the limit still moves up and you’re driving on that limit so the car still wants to be sliding and moving around and so on but the main thing is it is more consistent and nicer to drive.”