Norris’s remark McLaren are lacking “100 points of downforce” shows depth of plight

F1 technology

Posted on

| Written by

McLaren’s lack of pace was excruciatingly obvious in Bahrain.

While the MCL36 looked good during the first pre-season test at Barcelona, McLaren encountered problems with overheating brakes during the majority of the Bahrain test which limited how many consecutive laps they could run.

The team was able to produce a quick fix which allowed both drivers to reach the chequered flag in Bahrain. But team principal Andreas Seidl described it as “not the final, ideal solution.”

The team’s test was “heavily compromised by this unexpected brake issue” on the front axle of the car. The fact they had to quickly bring over new parts from the factory and have more to come indicate this problem had serious implications for the car’s front end.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
McLaren looked in good shape at the first test
At round one Daniel Ricciardo was eliminated in Q1 and Lando Norris progressed no further than Q2, underlining the challenging situation the team faces. The race pace was not much better, their fastest lap times being around 2.5 seconds off the lead pace. To put that in perspective, the whole grid was covered by 3.7s.

When asked about whether the lack of pace in the car stemmed from pure lack of performance or driveability, Norris admitted it was “a little bit of both.”

“It’s challenging to put a lap together, but then when you do put a lap together, you feel like you should be much higher than you are,” he explained. “The last lap I did in Q2 was a 32.0 or whatever it was, it feels like I should be sixth, seventh, or whatever, or pole. You’re performing and you feel like you’re extracting everything out of it. You’re just a long way off. So it’s a little bit of both.”

Norris’s best time in qualifying was a 1’32.008. In the same session Lewis Hamilton managed a 1’31.048 for Mercedes with the same tyre compound and power unit (pace-setter Max Verstappen was almost three-tenths further ahead).

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Team principal Andreas Seidl was unflinching in his assessment of the team’s predicament. “The most important thing is for us now to simply acknowledge [the lack of performance] and compare us to the Mercedes works team,” he said. “We missed around a second to Mercedes. That’s the best reference for us we can have and that’s what we are focussing on as a team.”

McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
The second test revealed problems at the front of the MCL36
A fundamental lack of grip is the root cause of their problems, he said. “We know we most likely would simply miss grip, which is probably a result of missing mechanical grip, plus aerodynamic grip.

“It could be that this track is maybe exaggerating the weaknesses we have in our package. But independent of that we want to get to a point where we have a strong car that works at all tracks and that’s what we have to focus on.”

In Barcelona testing, McLaren was one of few teams which didn’t seem to suffer too much from the dreaded ‘porpoising’. The car looked like a solid midfield contender. Seidl admitted the team had been optimistic about starting the season around the same level they ended last year, when they placed fourth in the constructors championship.

“It was a positive test because the car was working well straight out of the box,” he said. “I think we left Barcelona still seeing us in a position that we are fighting at least P4 again.”

Both McLaren cars were lapped at one stage

However, now it seems that it may be the MCL36 may not have been producing sufficient downforce in the first place to encounter the problem in the same way their rivals did. Norris, who sounded utterly miserable as he circulated well outside the top 10 throughout the race, let slip just how grave their problems were when race engineer Will Joseph tried to convince him they could emulate the Mercedes drivers by fitting the hard tyre compound:

JosephLando some feedback on the hard: Russell pushed hard and now has high deg. Hamilton brought it in and is doing better.
NorrisYeah, confirm. They also have 100 points more downforce.

‘Points’ of downforce is a somewhat opaque term as teams often define internally what a ‘point’ is worth to them. In most cases, a ‘point’ represents a fraction (around a hundredth) of a physical characteristic such as the Coefficient of Lift (Cl) or a force coefficient.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

As downforce is a function of the square of the speed, a small difference, in the neighbourhood of ‘tens of points’ can make a big difference in lap time. Norris referred to a hundred, so their deficit to Mercedes is clearly significant. And the world champions were not the benchmark team last weekend: By the end of qualifying Hamilton was 0.68s off pole position.

Norris endured a tough race
How long will it take McLaren to address the problem? If it relates to its core aerodynamic philosophy, or if the brake cooling fix has forced severe compromises to its original concept, not only is the current configuration and performance at risk but all the upgrades in the pipeline would have to be re-thought. Aerodynamic components take time to simulate, test and manufacture, so it will not be a quick fix.

Making the situation worse, the further upstream (front wing, brake ducts, etc…) an aerodynamic change has to be made, the more components downstream it affects, and may call for tweaks all around the car. As updates get put onto the car, the situation for McLaren may improve, but they will be playing ‘catch-up’ as the teams in front continue to develop their cars as well.

Not only will the pure amount of aerodynamic grip be a factor for McLaren’s journey back to the front of the mid-pack, as we have seen from testing and race weekend, but the set-up of the cars also varies widely from track to track. In order to start scoring points, McLaren will also need to gain a deeper understanding of their mechanical grip to ensure that the two systems work together to provide a strong package.

Given the definitive lack of pace, and because Saudi Arabia follows Bahrain back-to-back, there is too little time for these core issues to be resolved before this weekend’s race. However, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is a much quicker layout to Bahrain and may suit the MCL 36 better – or worse.

It could be a few races into the season before we see McLaren back on form. After the Bahrain race Norris admitted he’s “hoping this is as bad as it gets.”

“It might not be,” he added, “but it could be.”

Become a RaceFans Supporter

RaceFans is run thanks in part to the generous support of its readers. By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the same in whichever currency you use) you can help cover the costs of creating, hosting and developing RaceFans today and in the future.

Become an RaceFans Supporter today and browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

2022 F1 season

Browse all 2022 F1 season articles

Author information

Alto Ono
Alto is a motorsport journalist and graduated from Cranfield University with a MS in Advanced Motorsport Mechatronics. He has previously covered a range of...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

44 comments on “Norris’s remark McLaren are lacking “100 points of downforce” shows depth of plight”

  1. As I’ve said before, it will take time for teams to adapt to the new regulations. That includes Bahrain’s front-runners.

    With the limited amount of testing allowed, there is an element of luck as to whether your design works when it hits the track. Over the course of the year we’ll see teams mimicking each other, especially the Mercedes-powered teams, as they push to move up the grid and establish a sound base-car on which to develop.

    There really is an opportunity for the likes of Haas, Alpha Romeo or Alpha Tauri to capitalise on this early-era period and break into the top 3 or 4 whilst teams like McLaren struggle to come to terms with the car they’ve got. It makes for an exciting season and a refreshing change from the repetitive ‘Mercedes v The Rest’ that we’ve all got used to for the last 8 years. Fascinatingly, it could also show us more clearly what a depth of driving talent there is in F1 and that it’s not just Lewis, Max plus a load of also-rans.

  2. With the limited amount of testing allowed, there is an element of luck as to whether your design works when it hits the track

    So competency has anything to do with this Mclaren failure… but the “likes of Haas, Alpha Romeo or Alpha Tauri” are only faster because of element of luck…

    1. You need always some luck but we can say the three little teams did a good job!

    2. element


      A small but significant amount of a feeling or quality.

      e.g. “…there is an element of luck as to whether your design works when it hits the track.”

      1. When you said “element of luck”, I thought you meant “the entire reason”.

        Ironically it comes in the same week where we made the distinction between any car must unlap themselves, and all cars must unlap themselves.

        1. Yep. As you point out, there’s semantics and then there’s completely misinterpreting what I said!

          1. The other teams made a good job and Mclaren did not, but you choose to distinguish the element that no one have control about. Nudging to a narrative that helps Mclaren evade responsibility.

          2. AlexS – You’re choosing a fight for no reason!

            My post made 4 obvious points:

            1. New regulations make it difficult for all teams, including those that finished on the podium last Sunday;

            2. Teams don’t get much time to test so really don’t know what car they’ll have on track. Luck, good or bad, can make a difference at this point of the season;

            3. This creates an opportunity for other teams to establish themselves as front-runners which shakes-up the pecking order;

            4. All of this means (hopefully) an exciting season with different teams and different drivers doing well.

            [This post is available in Powerpoint and as an Audiobook!]

          3. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
            24th March 2022, 15:46

            Luck just doesn’t appear. You kinda have to make it by putting yourself in position to succeed. See Mercs 3rd and 4th finish last weekend. Yeah, they lucked into those positions on RBRs unfortunate retirements. But Merc was there to pickup the pieces and if they had not been there, then they wouldn’t have been able to pickup those extra points in the end.

            I don’t think “luck” (bad or good) is McLaren’s current situation. They took the rules like everyone else and conceptualized a design concept and philosophy behind it. This comes from engineering and science theorizing on what they believe will work. Basing your concept on these theories is based on science and therefore you can’t argue that they are unlucky! Their concept just doesn’t work as is. So they have to reset and analyze what is happening and go back to the drawing board. There is a reason… luck doesn’t really have a reason for why they are not performing… something behind their concept/philosophy just doesn’t work. Luck is usually a one off occasion due to a build up of various events and are out of your control.

    3. It seems like they’re as blind as in the Alonso era.
      How lost do yo have to be to think they you’re around fourth when actually you’re almost last?

  3. Not sure it’s ever a good idea to place too much store on radio comments from a very fed up driver. :-)

  4. Mclaren’s beginning was disastrous, especially after the recent past upward trend, but I’m sure they’ll bounce back eventually, even if this takes at least a few events.

    1. @jerejj Lol I’m sure they want to improve, but these days ‘bouncing’ back is not a good thing.

      1. An all this time I thought they were on the Up.!

  5. What doesn’t gel for me is if they were missing 100 points of downforce which is substantial and downforce creates drag, they should have been much faster on top speed but they weren’t.

    1. It’s possible to have drag without downforce. Essentially any car has drag whether it has downforce or not.

      It’s quite possible that they were expecting more downforce than they got because of the messing around they’ve had to do at the front which in turn may have completely destroyed their ground effects as well.

      Without downforce (and decent braking) they were cornering much slower and taking longer to accelerate which impacts speed down the straights as much if not more than drag.

      1. Coventry Climax
        24th March 2022, 10:38

        If I may slightly change what you said; it’s not just possible to have drag and no downforce, it’s the standard situation, as air resistance has a linear relation to the frontal/projected area. Look at the brake-parachute used in landing space vehicles or with dragsters: just drag, zero downforce.
        In a nutshell: You’ll need to put in a massive amount of engineering (shaping the car) to maximise the conversion of the air resistance into downforce while (so that’s an ‘AND’) maximising laminar airflow (minimise turbulence) around and behind the car to minimise drag.
        But I’m sure Patrick already ‘sort of got it’ from your answer.

    2. You can have a draggy car that doesn’t create downforce.

    3. Paraphrasing the (very good) article- If they significantly upsized their brake ducts from the 2nd test (and they must have) then they may well have interfered the effectiveness of the tunnel – that’s downforce without significant drag compromised.
      Still, they got the car to do a lot of laps at reasonable pace compared to the test and hopefully have fixes for the fix this weekend.

  6. Norris had some brake problems in Spa a while ago. I also remeber them having same kind of issues with Alonso/Honda era? It seems like it’s always Mclaren and their brakes since the famous 3rd pedal

  7. 100 points of downforce does not say much without putting into context? how many points of downforce has an average f1 car this days?

    1. Based on this guy’s simulation of a Williams last year:

      An F1 car has about 500-600 points of downforce (CLA 5.6), and drag of 1.83. So downforce:drag ratio of about 3.

      1. Pat Symonds wrote:
        When engineers refer to points of downforce, what do they mean?

        When we discuss downforce or drag, we try to normalise results so that ambient conditions are irrelevant. If we simply talked about how many newtons of downforce were produced at, say, 200mph, this would vary between a hot day when air density is low, and a cool day when air density is high. Aircraft pilots know about this and adjust take-off speeds depending on ambient conditions as the lift their craft experiences also varies with temperature and air pressure.

        To eliminate this ambiguity, we express downforce by means of a term we name the “lift coefficient.” Of course, since it is downforce we are interested in, the number is negative. This coefficient is a number that, when multiplied by air density and the square of the speed as well as a reference area, will tell us the actual downforce. The reference area is generally the frontal area of the car but, although many teams express this as 1.5 square metres, there is no hard and fast rule and so the way one team expresses the lift coefficient may be slightly different to another.

        Let’s say a car has a lift coefficient of -3.50. The gains made in the windtunnel will often be of a magnitude shown only by the second decimal place of that coefficient and, for convenience, aerodynamicsists talk about this being a point. Therefore if we improved our downforce by one point we would increase the coefficient from -3.50 to -3.51. In fact, downforce gains are so hard to come by that we often use the third decimal place as well and this increment is termed a “unit.”

        So a point is really nothing?
        It’s true that it is a small percentage and the effect of a gain of one point will vary from circuit to circuit, but, as a rule of thumb, a gain of three points will represent a lap-time improvement of 0.1 seconds. Given how close racing is these days, that can be very significant.
        This make it 3.3 seconds deficit at time this was written years ago We know it is less time today for Mclaren
        It is also possible that Norris is dropping a red herring…

  8. Regardless of the points of downforce missing, the deltas shown by various sites indicated slow corners were hurting the team most.

    Pure guess work but wouldn’t this indicate the brakes were not operating at peak based off the interim solution deployed. Not to mention the overheating of other elements which I guess again it was engine related.

    Still sounds like they are at the back end of midfield but shouldn’t be as far off with the above being addressed.

  9. Firstly I’d like to congratulate Alto Ono on a perfectly summarised article. Really enjoyed reading this versus other material on Mclaren’s issues.

    For me personally and this is something that no other journalist or motorsport publication has really scrutinised is the role of James Key in this situation. Mclaren brought in the highly coveted Key from Toro Rosso to inspire their next generation of Cars to be championship contenders. 2022 represented a great opportunity for Key to really put a stamp on his own vision and concept for a front running car. He and his technical team have failed spectacularly in this regard and if I were Andreas Seidl or Zak Brown I’d have to question the reasoning for such a poorly designed car, that even underestimated the brake cooling requirements which no other team have experienced?

    If Mclaren wish to be a Championship contender by 2024, I can’t see how this will be achieved if this is the level their Technical department are operating at.

  10. Its so strange. For all the forward movement they had they seem to have taken more steps backward than they did forward and now have the same mountain to climb all over again. Before the first race there were those that said there was scope for teams to get it quite wrong but of all of them to get it wrong, I didn’t expect McLaren.

  11. I think that the brakes overheating was an oversight , these cars are still so very complex that a small problem can create a bigger problem ( ripple effect ) am sure they will get it sorted it’s just such a damn shame..
    also I think we need to look at the Merc pu as the last 6 cars were merc powered so lets just see what goes down in the next couple of races

    1. Mercedes PU is minimal. The day they fix the propoise in their car they will be much nearer Ferrari, Redbull or small cents behind at most. It is not the reason Aston, Williams and Mclaren are 2-3 seconds from the front.

  12. So McLaren’s relative lack of porpoising is due to a lack of downforce?

  13. The problem they have on the brakes is inexcusable. Being 1s away from mercedes is normal. Mercedes does not allow their customer teams to be closer than that. Ask merc for more power.

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      24th March 2022, 16:22

      Per the rules… engine suppliers “must” provide the “same” engine they run (including sw modes). So very unlikely McLaren’s short falls has anything to do with Merc. This is merely a conspiracy theory with nothing to back it up. Also, if true… these teams would know that and no longer want to do business with Merc. They would very quickly go with a Renault, RBR Honda, or Ferrari power rather be powered down on purpose. That would be a very bad call for Merc company that puts a lot of time and effort behind their image!

      1. @flyingferrarim not a conspiracy theory in the slightest, everyone knows the rules and every customer knows that the highest of power modes may not be available to them. Every team has the PU from the manufacturer. I don’t know if you recall Grosjean’s infamous spa podium and the pu mode that was never used again.
        Go check today’s round-up where Krack from Aston hints at already knowing they are behind on power, and that Merc proves that there is room for improvement. Kracks comments which contrasts with Wolff saying the PU is not letting merc down. It is very clear mercedes needs to unlock more power.

        1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
          26th March 2022, 3:30

          I don’t see proof of that!

          1. @flyingferrarim all Mercs are slow on the speedtraps go check for yourself. I assume you haven’t been following f1 for long so I’ll link you up this

          2. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
            26th March 2022, 13:43

            1) your link is of 2017 so it shows and proves nothing
            2) why take a dig at someone in how long they have watched F1? What does that have to do with with anything? For your information, I’ve watched F1 since 1994 when Mansell returned to F1 after his Indycar stint.
            3) Based on this link. Mercedes power seems to be off by roughly 3 to 4 kmh. That difference could easily be the fact that they ALL ran larger wings on their cars (compared to the others) to improve their poor handling characteristics. We know all Merc powered cars ran “bigger wings” than others as it was well reported. Its not like its an incapable PU as both Albon (9th) and Latifi (6th) had reached the top ten in the speed trap. So that shows evidence that the Merc PU is not out to lunch but is related to the downforce/drag levels of the cars. Is it still the best on the grid? likely not, but that’s not the point. The point is that the PU isn’t the issue. When ALL Merc cars are running high downforce compared to everyone else… could it be the PU’s higher center of gravity (due to mercs cooling philosophy change to the PU over the winter break aka the narrow sidepods) impacting handling characteristics on all these cars requiring them to take these higher downforce measures to improve balance and grip throughout an entire lap? More specifically sectors that demand good mechanical and aero grip. There is more to vehicle dynamics than PUs and aero! To drive my point home more… it would also be important to see what the exit speeds are going onto the main straight. Faster you are coming out the faster you are at the end. I don’t have numbers but from what I saw via F1TV feeds… the Merc struggled getting out of corners fast. That further points to handling being an issue rather than PU.

          3. @flyingferrarim you are in denial
            1) rule has not changed much since then
            2) like earth spinning around the sun everyone knows the works teams have an advantage therefore I thought you were not aware of a very well publicised instance of it, also the other teams admit this as a fact.
            3) your chart proves mercedes is down on power, on average their cars are down the charts, they did not all collectively ran more wing, they looked like the other cars but looking at Jeddah, Aston had the skinniest of wings and this track further asserted what is obvious, merc is low on power. All have bad top speed in common and they are all struggling for speed, during quali the graphs on q3 showed russell roughly .7 off on the straights. Both Ham and Toto have started to include needing more power in the conversation, obviously they don’t want to blame their own department, one that has given them such an edge in the past. The idea that merc might have an higher centre of gravity comes from nowhere, might be a thing might not be anything. Having a good exit is key but as aero resistance builds with speed cars tend to reach terminal velocity and at Jeddah at most russell in q3 achieved 324 with drs whilst Hondas did 337 with drs.

  14. However, now it seems that it may be the MCL36 may not have been producing sufficient downforce in the first place to encounter the problem in the same way their rivals did.

    So sealing the floor with the vertices clearly shown when it was wet was what? I don’t buy this take. Even if they are down on some downforce it would not be so much as to prevent any porpoising. Reading too much into “100 points” of downforce said in exasperation in the middle of the race. Was Alonso really calling the Honda a GP2 engine back in the day?

    Anyway, will be interesting to see how they go at other tracks. Hopefully they get on top of it soon, if not they could be in for some serious rebuilding for next year.

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      24th March 2022, 16:27

      I never understood the vertices take from the pictures of the wet. That to me sounds like air was spilling out from underneath the car and doing the opposite of what was being described (aka not making a seal). That spillage would result in a smaller vacuum effect and in turn less down force generation by the floor. that would also provide good insight why the McLaren wasn’t experiencing porpoising to the extent everyone else was. I could be wrong, but that is my take based on what we are seeing atm.

  15. Mark in Florida
    24th March 2022, 15:45

    Poor McLaren! I thought that they would produce a very competitive car. It seems as though they are not producing enough downforce from the floor. Also when in the slower corners their lack of mechanical grip is apparent as well. Formula 1s lack of pre season testing is hurting the teams. Relying on CFD and not real car testing is not the answer in my opinion. Real world problems usually only show up in real world situations.

    1. I don’t disagree about real car testing, and let’s keep in mind Mac had issues with DR having Covid, and with their brakes, so they lost valuable time/data pre-season. Also, I still think it is very much the case that customer teams will not be beating factory works teams any time soon. Not saying they couldn’t beat Alpine for they seem the weakest of the factory teams, but Mac beating Ferrari, RBR, and Mercedes? Can’t see it, and that puts Mac amongst a tight group of mid-fielders, some of whom even though they are customers, have what seems like potentially the best pu. Yeah Mac has their work cut out for them.

    2. Today you have to rely in CFD and simulators. They are essential because it is possible to test many stuff.
      The days of Ferrari in Fiorano doing thousands and thousands of Km are not economical anymore, cars are much more complex.

      Relying on CFD and not real car testing is not the answer in my opinion. Real world problems usually only show up in real world situations.

      Haas had less testing time than Mclaren and they are at top of middle field. You need to hit the ground running and the testing is just to finesse the car , check reliability not to develop it.

  16. I am pretty sure this is Alonso’s fault.

  17. Maybe, just maybe, Lando will scream on the radio, as he is racing down the straight in Jeddah……GP2 Aero…..GP2 brakes….

Comments are closed.