Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

“We didn’t develop fast enough” – McLaren explain efficiency problems and target fix

2023 F1 season

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McLaren gave the first hints at a lack of satisfaction with their MCL60 when presenting the new car at their headquarters last week.

The team revealed it had identified potential improvements it wanted to bring to the car as soon as possible after the season began – perhaps as early as round four at the end of April.

Their cautiousness appeared to be borne out in testing. While the usual caveats apply, the MCL60 seldom troubled the top of the times sheets over three days in Bahrain.

The new car was confined to the garage at times as the team remedied niggling problems with the mandatory bodywork fins which extend over the inside of the front wheels. But while McLaren expect to have a fix in place for that in time for this weekend’s season-opening race, the deeper problems are going to take longer to solve.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Testing wasn’t a roaring success for McLaren
Andrea Stella, who took over from Andreas Seidl as team principal at the end of last season, has the first headache of his new job. He offered no excuses for the team’s disappointing start to the season when he spoke to media including RaceFans at the Bahrain International Circuit last week. “It’s not an effect of the changes of regulations and we didn’t take a step backwards,” he admitted. “We just didn’t develop fast enough.”

The team’s sub-par start to testing did not come as a shock, Stella admitted. “Our performance is pretty much where I expected it to be. No surprises. The data correlates with what we were expecting from an aerodynamic point of view.”

Stella said there are also “no surprises” about their likely situation “performance-wise” and position in the pecking order, despite the difficulty of assessing times from testing.

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Among the teams who are resigned to starting the season at a disadvantage there is a common refrain that the later stages of the championship will offer good opportunities for them to catch up.

Stella has taken over from Seidl at McLaren
“We know we have work to do, but if we think about this season of the season is long, there can be variations in the competitive order,” said Stella. “Like I said already at the car launch we know there’s good development rate, that’s where we are focusing.

“I think the start, we have to be realistic, but in terms of looking ahead to the season, we remain optimistic.”

McLaren plans to bring performance upgrades for its car in areas it believes some of its rivals are already exploiting with their 2023 designs.

“In Formula 1, the material you have right now, trackside, is material that you had two or three months ago in development,” Stella explained. “So the good news is that we have good development streams going on, they will land trackside in some weeks.

“Obviously, when you know that you have good development ongoing, you kind of realise ‘ah, maybe our competitors already have it’. So it’s a reference to yourself.

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“This game is very competitive. If you slow down in terms of development rate, you can’t assume it happened the same to others. So that’s why you see me not necessarily the most optimistic now, but rather more optimistic for what’s coming in the season.”

McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Team remedied some faults at test but deeper problems remain
The potential gain from the coming updgrades is significant, he added. “There’s a couple of components where we see that there’s quite a bit of lap time sensitivity. I can’t say what. So it will not necessarily look like a completely different car, but some of the changes will seem to make a significant difference for aerodynamic efficiency.”

The team is seeking to reverse the recent slide in its progress. It arguably over-achieved by finishing third in the 2020 championship, thanks in part to an uncharacteristically poor season for Ferrari, then achieved a more representative fourth place in 2021. But its fall to fifth in 2022 was a disappointment arising largely from shortcomings with its first car designed for F1’s overhauled technical regulations.

While McLaren have largely addressed the three main problems encountered in 2022, Stella admitted the team is still lagging in one area.

“Last year we had some clear objectives in terms of development. They had to do with aerodynamic efficiency, some development related to the exploitation of the tyres and tyre usage, and also some other objectives to improve the balance.

“The reality is that most of these objectives have actually been met. But the objective in terms of aerodynamic efficiency of the car, that’s the one where we are still shy of what was our target, I would say.

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“So some of the objectives have been met. Aerodynamic efficiency, is still not where we would like it to be or where we would like it to be to be a top four contender. So I would say that’s the one in which we are still short.”

Interactive: Compare all 10 F1 cars of 2023 side-by-side
McLaren “realised probably late that there were some development directions that had more potential in terms of development rate and also in terms of development over a longer period”, Stella admitted. “We didn’t realise that early enough for these development directions to be part of the launch specification of the car.”

Stella doesn’t see a single problem or shortcoming as the reason why McLaren has fallen behind on development. He believes it is a consequence of the team lacking resources compared to F1’s top contenders. McLaren is already hard at work building up some of its infrastructure, including a new wind tunnel, the benefits of which will begin to be felt later this year.

“The aerodynamics of a F1 car is one of the most complex engineering projects that you can see on the planet,” he said. “So it is quite challenging and requires top facilities. It requires expertise that you need to develop over the years. So I wouldn’t say there’s a specific deficit in some areas, it’s more of a variety of reasons.

“We keep mentioning some of them, just because it’s the case – we keep mentioning the technology, the lack of the wind tunnel. We keep mentioning that from a workforce point of view, we do have to expand the aerodynamic group – we went through a phase of contraction, we have now changed this tendency. So we are increasing the workforce from this point of view as well. And then you have to keep building.

“If you see some top teams, if you see Red Bull, they’re carefully developing their expertise for a long time and now they are in condition to respond to changes of regulations improving year-by-year. I’m afraid it’s just continuous improvement and growth and we have to improve in all areas, I would say.”

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While all teams are increasingly feeling the effects of F1’s budget cap on their ability to spend money on development, Stella says that’s “an excuse that I don’t want to invoke because McLaren is now in a situation in which we do have resources that we can invest”.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Midfield rivals may have out-developed McLaren
“These investments have already started,” he continues. “We have been able to optimise within the cost cap. So I think it’s more the fact that it takes time to achieve the standards required from a technological point of view, from an expertise point of view, from a number of people point of view, to compete at the top in F1. So I wouldn’t say [we’re] budget cap-limited.”

At this stage in the season all teams are being reserved about their likely position in the competitive order. However Stella is aware the midfield McLaren inhabited last year is likely to be even closer again, and the deficits they’ve identified could make a big difference at this stage in the season.

“I think we will see again that the midfield is very compact,” he said. “This means that if you don’t do a good enough job, even in setting up and maximising what you have, you may struggle to get out of Q1. At the same time, you might be a Q3 contender. So I think the ‘fork’ is relatively open, is relatively wide.

“When I’m talking about competitiveness at the moment, I would say our objective through the season is to be a top four car. At the moment I would say we are not necessarily in this range.”

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Author information

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...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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2 comments on ““We didn’t develop fast enough” – McLaren explain efficiency problems and target fix”

  1. So first Williams, now Mclaren I hope Ferrari won’t drop in the same hole as these two

  2. I can’t really accept in my mind the thoughts that my beloved team are going to be at the back for half a season or more – AGAIN !
    It just doesn’t seem credible that they waltzed through the Car Design and Build period that to them seemed alright for almost a year, and then only realised how grim the situation is after seeing all the other cars (built and developed by teams with years less experience than themselves).

    I know that Stella has not tried to hide the fact that they were nowhere near the standard of the other teams, but it must hurt like hell that he’s now carrying the responsibility for the teams’ lack of performance where it counts – on the track – Right now my heart is heavy and the future looks bleak.

    So lets see where they end up after the first four or five rounds and whether these miraculous updates are going to do the trick !

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