After emerging from pre-season testing in Barcelona as one of the likely contenders for victory alongside Ferrari, McLaren had a rather difficult few weeks in the Middle East.
Disastrous testing in Bahrain due to unexpected brake problems was followed by a dismal start to the season, scoring no points. From looking like a serious favourite, Woking became one of the teams that would be fighting for the lower positions on the grid this year.
However, the British showed signs of recovery in Saudi Arabia, and even in Australia they scored double points with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, attributing this result to Melbourne being a better suited track for the MCL36.
At Imola, a track where they had already done well last season, the young English driver took the podium, giving an injection of optimism for the team that seemed sunk at the beginning of 2022.
With this roller coaster of ups and downs, it has been difficult to understand what McLaren’s real form is, and how much of that good performance is due to the more favorable circuits and how much to the overall package.
For team boss Andreas Seidl , the feeling is that the recent pace is actually the clearest picture, and Bahrain’s slump was just a blur in the tally: “My assessment is that if you look back And you see how everything went from Barcelona, I think we had a decent test with a car that worked.”
“Then we experienced this big setback, losing all those test laps at Sakhir, and that was due to a compromised brake solution, but also losing those miles and ideally preparing to start the season with a completely new car. said the German.
“By having the race in the same place as the tests, everyone gained a lot of experience, and I think it made us look worse than we really were with that package,” continued Seidl.
“Going to Jeddah and then Melbourne, I think the more laps we put in, the more we were able to recover from, so I think part of our performance was just getting back to what we already had.
“I think there is nothing wrong with this car,” he said. “At the same time, it’s clear that when you look at the difference in performance you have, with a weekend like Melbourne, we miss what was there, so we’re working hard to bring more level.”
“Of course I think with the current package and the small improvements we’ve been making since Bahrain, we have a car that can fight for the top 10 and for points every weekend.”
“For the moment, that is the goal we have set. While, at the same time, we are working on the improvements that we want to bring in the future.”
Norris’ podium finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was due in part to bad luck for others, as Ferrari traded dreams of home success for nightmares. Carlos Sainz was left out on the first lap, after a contact with Ricciardo, while Charles Leclerc threw all chances of a podium overboard after a spin.
However, both of its drivers are confident that recent experiences with the car will show that the fight at the front of the midfield pack – with Alpine, Haas, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes – is something they can now believe in.
Norris , architect of McLaren’s only podium finish this season, is convinced that the team has improved its package and that the step forward in recent races is not the result of major changes to the car.
“I think what we’re seeing now is that Bahrain was a bit more of an isolated case compared to the last couple of weekends,” the Briton explained. “It was still reality at the time.”
“I think a lot of what we saw [in Bahrain] is still in the car. But we have understood it more, we are extracting more from the car, for sure. We have worked on the weak points and made some improvements, and that has been quite noticeable. There are a lot of positives.”
“But I think today we are not the third fastest team in a comfortable way, I would say. Some of the things from Bahrain [that gave problems] are still there, and we are trying to solve some of them. Most of them we have focused on , we’ve made some improvements, and I think that’s why we’re better.”
McLaren is keeping plans to upgrade its MCL36 under wraps but, like everyone else, it intends to add more downforce and trim the car’s weight in future races.
One wonders if, judging by the progress made so far in 2022, could the team now find its current trend moving it closer to Red Bull and Ferrari? Daniel Ricciardo ‘s opinion is that this, at least for the moment, is too optimistic.
“Don’t get me wrong, at least today and here, it is a bit of an optimistic ambition to be the third team, because the first two are a good step ahead,” explained the Australian.
“But I think there is still a lot to learn with these cars, and naturally not just us but all the teams will bring updates, and even a team like Mercedes with their philosophy, maybe that will come to life at some point this season.
“I think there is a lot of room for development and improvements, you are not one or two tenths. I think there is potential to improve up to four or five tenths.”
“Look, it’s still ambitious because Red Bull and Ferrari are going to continue to develop [their cars], so the target is always going to move. But yeah, I’m still seeing the glass as half full in that maybe we can still find something else somewhere. moment”.
For Seidl , the focus is very much on simply trying to get the consistency that can help the team fight for third position, rather than trying to dream that he can be at the front, going wheel-to-wheel with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
“The difference we have with Red Bull and Ferrari is huge and they are not going to sit still either,” said the McLaren boss.
“So regardless of how this season has started and where we are right now, we know exactly where we are as a team. Compared to these, we still know the deficits that we have, so there’s no magic.”
“But we all want to be ambitious. We get up in the morning because we want to fight them and give it our all, put up a good fight,” Seidl explained. “We try to find shortcuts, but sometimes you have to be realistic. That’s how I see it, and we’ll give it our all.”
“Hopefully there will be other races similar to previous years, where certain characteristics of the cars suddenly change the order for one or two races, as we have seen in Monza for us, for example, last year. It could happen this year, and it would be great.
“But the most important thing for me is that we move forward, continuously, that we put our infrastructure in place to make sure we get to the point in a couple of years of fighting for wins every race weekend,” concluded Seidl.