Unrealistic for McLaren to think of title in first year after Mercedes switch – Brown

2021 F1 season

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McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown says the team’s switch to Mercedes power units for the 2021 F1 season won’t immediately put them in contention for the championship.

The team finished third overall last year, its best result since 2012, when it was also powered by Mercedes. McLaren and its drivers won four titles with the manufacturer between 1995 and 2014.

But despite switching from Renault power to the world champions’ engines for the new season, Brown expects McLaren will remain in a closely-knit midfield contest this year.

“The field is unbelievably close,” said Brown. “I think challenging for the championship, it would be unrealistic given the journey that we’re on.

“All we can hope for and are striving for is to close the gap to Mercedes, who we anticipate to be the fastest team, again, in ’21. The rules haven’t changed significantly. So I don’t think 2021 will look much different from 2020 for the entire grid other than expecting it to get even closer.”

McLaren narrowly emerged ahead in a three-way fight for third in the championship with Racing Point (now Aston Martin) and Renault (now Alpine) at the end of last season.

Interactive: Compare the new McLaren-Mercedes MCL35M with last year’s car
“We went into Abu Dhabi with the ability to finish third, fourth or fifth and I think it’s that close and I anticipate it being even closer this year,” said Brown. “It’s too competitive to give any sort of prediction.”

McLaren last used Mercedes power units in 2014, the first year of the V6 hybrid regulations. They became Honda’s works engine partner the following year, only to end that deal after three unsuccessful seasons.

They have used Renault engines for the past three seasons. Team principal Andreas Seidl said reuniting with Mercedes would bring several advantages for the team.

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“In the end the target for us was clear, that we wanted to get the championship-winning power unit at the back of a car, which is obviously the most competitive one which is available to us.

McLaren-Mercedes MCL35M, 2021
First pictures: McLaren reveals its new Mercedes-powered MCL35M for 2021
“I think probably also compared to the past in terms of how the regulations are worded nowadays, they ensure that you get exactly the same treatment as a customer as the works team gets. Also we have a lot of trust in that regard to Mercedes.

“Independent of that, I think also the way the FIA is ensuring that the policing of these regulations, so making sure that these regulations are fulfilled, I think the FIA has made a great step in terms of monitoring the different power units and how they get used by the different teams. So we are definitely convinced that we are in a position, once we are there as a team, that the Mercedes power unit can help us to win races again in the future, definitely.”

However Seidl believes the team have much more to do than switch power units to compete for championships again.

“At the same time I think it’s important to make sure we focus on ourselves. We still have a long way to go on the team side.

“We are happy with the progress we could make the last two years but at the same time, we know there’s still a lot of things we need to get in place first on the infrastructure side, on the team side before we actually battle for race wins again.”

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Video: First look at McLaren’s MCL35M

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2021 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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12 comments on “Unrealistic for McLaren to think of title in first year after Mercedes switch – Brown”

  1. If there’s one thing I’d like to see above all this year, that would McLaren troubling the Mercs. At the very least, displacing/matching Red Bull along with hopefully, a resurgent Ferrari.

    1. I’m expecting Aston Martin to be troubling Mercedes too, which would be even better.

      1. With those drivers I have a real time believing it, and I’m not a stroll detractor, furthermore, even assuming they were good enough, the jump the car needs to do is huge.

        1. hard time*

    2. I also think that Ferrari is a good candidate for the third spot (don’t know if the engine is good enough but the rumors it’s much beter then the one they have) Astin and McLaren is going for the 4th spot.

  2. I couldn’t spot any Mercedes branding on the new car anywhere, unless I missed it. Usually customer teams have a discreet logo on the engine cover at least. I’m not sure what that says about the relationship between McLaren and Merc.

    1. From what I’ve read somewhere, it is a purely technical relationship and as such doesn’t require any branding on the car or on anywhere else. The same with Racing Point last year, and Williams also only displays Mercedes logo on the drivers’ overals.

    2. @f1hornet: Maybe it means the relationship is discrete and we can never mention it again…

  3. Yeah, its highly unlikely Mclaren will be fighting Merc for wins, in fact, bar Verstappen, its highly unlikely anyone else will.

    The best the midfield can hope for is to be on hand to pick up a podium should the front two teams run into issues, or, hope to challenge RB on certain tracks. I’m really looking forward to the F1.5 championship this year. Its going to be very close. Providing Mclaren don’t totally mess it up, Danny Ric should be a good bet for the F1.5 title…but Ferrari may pip Mclaren to 3rd in the constructors.

    1. “The best the midfield can hope for is to be on hand to pick up a podium should the front two teams run into issues, or, hope to challenge RB on certain tracks”

      On paper you’re right, but last season was actually really good for the midfield teams getting strong results, with Gasly and Perez both winning races in teams outside of Merc/RBR and most of the teams getting a podium along the way (with a good few of them getting multiple podiums).

      So they generally still need things to go their way for a good day, but whereas earlier in the hybrid era you might have had 6 cars clearly better than the rest, last season it was down to only 3 cars clearly much better than the rest, so it took a lot less for the midfielders to have their day in the sun.

      Hopefully Perez is a lot nearer Verstappen than Albon, in which case it might be back up to 4 running clear at the front, but given the stable rules one might expect 2021 to not be too different in terms of narrative to 2020.

  4. I am with RedBull on this one. As long as there’s a factory Mercedes team, McLaren wont win a WCC at all at least until 2025

  5. Well if things don’t work out with Mercedes, they can always try and get those new RedBull power units

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