The 2023 Formula 1 summer break is in full swing, presenting the opportunity to take stock of how each side’s season has unfolded ahead of the season’s resumption.
After a disastrous start to the season, McLaren has reinvented itself as an outside challenger to the F1 establishment thanks to a successful development program.
The season opener in Bahrain couldn’t have gone any worse for the Woking-based outfit, with rookie Oscar Piastri retiring, and Lando Norris making several pit stops due to ongoing technical troubles that resigned him to the back of the field.
The team’s troubles were foreshadowed by new Team Principal Andrea Stella following the MCL60 car launch in February, where he admitted he wasn’t “entirely happy” with the car.
It became clear that sometime over the winter break that McLaren had headed in the wrong direction with its design philosophy
McLaren alluded that its early season form would suffer as a result, which it duly did, with a double-points finish in Melbourne doing little to alleviate concerns as the team awaited urgent upgrades to improve its bleak performance outlook.
Changes to the team’s technical structure were also made in a bid to turn the season around, with one eye on the future as well.
James Key was let go as Technical Director, in favour of a three-person technical structure that will include Peter Prodromo alongside ex-Ferrari man David Sanchez and former long-serving Red Bull employee Rob Marshall once the latter pairing arrives at Woking in January.
With Stella calling these changes to the management structure within the team “much cleaner“, attention switched back to on-track performance, with a Baku upgrade package hailed by Norris to be what the team “should have had in Bahrain.”
McLaren added two points to its tally in Azerbaijan but was amongst the slowest of the competitors in Miami, with Norris and Piastri finishing 17th and 19th respectively.
It wasn’t until an extensive upgrade package started rolling out, beginning with updates to Norris’ car for the Austrian GP that McLaren turned things around.
Norris finished fourth in the Austrian GP and next time out in Silverstone, Piastri also inherited the new and improved MCL60 and the pair qualified second and third respectively, converting it into second (Norris) and fourth (Piastri) place finishes in the race.
To prove the Silverstone performance wasn’t a fluke, Norris backed it up with another second-place finish in Hungary, with Piastri coming home a respectable fifth.
The Australian rookie then led the McLaren charge in Belgium, impressing against his highly-rated teammate. Piastri qualified second for the Belgian Sprint and led for the majority of the rain-affected Saturday race, ultimately finishing second to the rampant Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Piastri’s Belgian GP weekend sadly ended prematurely thanks to a first corner coming together with Carlos Sainz, with Norris combatting a mistake with a high-downforce set-up to come home in seventh.
After what Piastri calls a “remarkable” turnaround, McLaren lies fifth in the Constructors’ standings on 103 points, 46 points clear of Alpine and 88 points behind fourth-place Ferrari.
McLaren’s position today looked inconceivable at the start of the season – but having beaten the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes in recent races, CEO Zak Brown has set his sights on the team being the “second fastest” by the end of the year.
McLaren’s goal to become ‘best of the rest’ behind Red Bull will resume at the Dutch Grand Prix on 25-27 August.