In Bahrain, there are no cars in Q3 and they are all far from the scoring area. In Saudi Arabia, the seventh position wise and the first marks of the year. In Australia, two drivers in the top 10: fifth and sixth. And, in the Emilia Romagna GP, last Sunday, the podium.
McLaren’s evolution, fast and very intense, is one of the main stories of this start of the season. It surprises even those present at the end of the process, the cockpit of the MCL36.
“I’m surprised, but it’s an amazing feeling. From where we were a month ago to the podium … After Bahrain, I honestly thought we wouldn’t be on the podium in this championship. So it’s a big shock,” said Norris, third in Imola.
“Shock” is a good word to describe this evolution.
At the World opener, Norris was only 12th on the list of fastest laps. Last Sunday, he was already seventh best. In Bahrain, the Englishman was cut from Q2 with a lap 1s2 slower than that of Verstappen, the leader. In last Friday’s qualifying, he was just 0s5 behind the best score in Q2, progressing to Q3 and securing third place on the grid.
What is the reason for such evolution? What happened? McLaren, after all, hasn’t come up with any major technical innovations or great solutions in recent weeks.
The answer may seem complicated, but it is part of the joy of F1 and brings hope to other teams struggling at the start of the season, such as Mercedes.
McLaren now understands the car better.
“We knew we would have problems in the first race. The most important thing at that time was to stay calm, protect the team and give everyone a chance to continue their work,” said Seidl, team principal.
To reveal the desire of the first sentence, it is necessary to go back a little.
Brake problems curtailed McLaren’s participation in the final pre-season test, from March 10 to 12, in Bahrain. The team walked at least the most in three days: 1,082 km. Mercedes did almost twice that: 2,083 km.
In addition, McLaren faced the absence of its most experienced driver, Ricciardo, who had covid.
Mileage and experience were in high demand, especially in a year of such major technical changes. The result: McLaren started the season in the dark, far behind the competition, and had to do “intense practice” in Jeddah and Melbourne for free to understand the behavior of the MCL36.
“We used the next two races to learn what we couldn’t do in Bahrain. That’s when we understood the real potential of this car. Imola was proof that the result in Australia was no different, that we have a good car, and strong. The foundations of evolution that are in our plans”, said Seidl.
Simple as that. People investigating the problem and burning their heads. It is the “human factor” that many like to despise in F1.
Yes, it still makes a difference, whether in the cockpit, in the pits, or in the workshop.
And I love it when it happens.