The cars started from 11th and 18th, with Lando Norris making a series of pitstops and finishing two laps down and Oscar Piastri retiring early. One event into the season and McLaren is officially last in the constructors’ championship.
It was not a great start by any measure for a team that has set fourth place as a minimum achievement in 2023. However, while the reliability issues were painful, there is light at the end of the new Woking wind tunnel.
That’s because the team knows it has performance coming that it can bolt onto the car for the fourth round of the season in Azerbaijan, with more to follow after that, thanks to a change in philosophy made last year.
And once the new tunnel is commissioned in June, it should allow the team to make a significant step forward in terms of the effectiveness of its aero programme as the 2024 project starts to take shape.
Thus, in contrast to the apparent disarray at Mercedes and Ferrari, McLaren has a quiet confidence about it.
The success that Aston Martin had over the winter in making a giant leap in aero performance serves as inspiration.
The danger of relying on an upgrade package is that when the new bits do come they don’t make a dramatic difference relative to rivals who are also making progress. However, for the time being McLaren is prepared to take the heat of a sub-par performance.
“I think we’re where we thought we’d probably be,” says technical director James Key. “I mean, it’s really tight, to be honest with you, with a slightly better or worse lap it could have gone one way or the other in quali.
“We knew we were several tenths off where we needed to be, and there is good reason for that. It’s not just sitting back and taking it easy over the winter, everyone’s worked incredibly hard.”
Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
While the focus is on the changes for race four, Key is adamant that even in its current spec the MCL60 has shown some encouraging signs.
“There’s a lot of new bits on this car, they’ve actually worked pretty well,” he says. “So a lot of the things that we wanted to encourage learning from what we did last year, looking at our strengths and weaknesses, that has come through pretty well. It’s a much better-balanced car.
“Also the mechanical updates seem to be working, and our tyre management is better. So I think all of those sides work pretty well. None of those has been compromised, or a nasty surprise.”
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