McLaren can expect tough weekend in Canada but potentially better days ahead

2023 F1 season

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Lando Norris expected his third place on the grid at the Spanish Grand Prix was unlikely to yield more than one or two points.

His pessimistic prediction was borne out, though chiefly due to the damage he picked up at the start, following which he finished a lapped 17th. But his team mate’s slip out of the top 10 underlined the team’s plight. “We’re not expecting anything more than what we’re doing now,” Norris concluded.

“We’re doing our best to try and get into points [positions], and if we do, it’s been an amazing day for us. But the expectation is almost not finish in the points at the minute.”

The Circuit de Catalunya, widely regarded as one of the most representative tracks on the Formula 1 calendar, gave McLaren everything they needed to know about the performance of their car and how its behaviour changed between qualifying and the race.

Canada’s slow corners are unlikely to flatter McLaren’s car
Team principal Andrea Stella said the race weekend confirmed McLaren’s belief that “we have to take a step forward from an aerodynamic point of view”, a process that was already underway, and also gave them lots to think about how the MCL60 uses its tyres.

McLaren plans to tackle that aerodynamic deficit with an upgrade package scheduled for the British Grand Prix in July, which means it has two more races with the current-specification car. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Norris and team mate Oscar Piastri are resigned to points-free races until then. As Stella explained, the car has strengths in specific areas,

“When we talk about downforce, downforce is very dependent on some parameters like front ride height, rear ride height, roll angle, yaw angle. So that’s why actually we should always talk about maps, aerodynamic maps,” Stella told media including RaceFans.

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“Our car delivers good downforce when it’s in a straight line and in high speed. In technical terms, the straight-line condition and the high-speed condition are actually very similar. When you go into medium-speed, low-speed the air comes like a much wider angle, which is called the yaw angle.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023
The MCL60 thrives through quicker turns
“Ride heights are higher, you are farther away from the ground. So actually the downforce you have is much less not only for the speed but because of this – what we call ‘attitude’. So our car is very good in terms of downforce when in straight line and in high speed – proper high speed, [Barcelona’s] last corner is more than 260kph, turn three, turn nine we talk more than 250kph, you don’t usually find these corners in other tracks – but when it’s medium-speed, low-speed, we struggle a little bit.”

Unfortunately for McLaren they will find plenty of those slower corners at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend. Chicanes make up eight of its 12 true corners, with the fastest of those entered at 145kph, while there are two hairpins where drivers get as low as 80kph at the start of the lap and 60kph towards the end of it.

Being such a little-used track, it will also have a very low-grip surface. That will likely prevent any repeated of McLaren’s Barcelona-style qualifying heroics on the softer tyres.

But while Canada is likely to be another tough weekend for McLaren, the following races may offer greater opportunities. The Red Bull Ring has a higher average speed, thanks to three corners that are possible to take flat-out, and may therefore be a better venue for McLaren.

The quickest lap times in Montreal last year saw average speeds of 211kph, while in the Styrian Alps it was almost 240kph. That was aided by the thinner air at a higher altitude, no doubt, but mainly down to a layout consisting of only nine proper corners and all taken at third gear or above.

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The slow corners, like in Montreal, put more onus on the braking than the turning. But unlike Montreal, this is due to the topography of the track and limited opportunities for brake cooling. The undulation of the track surface makes grip critical not just mid-corner but also on the approach, but the downhill exits can hide any traction struggles as cornering speeds rise from 210kph to 245kph from turns five to eight.

The following round is McLaren’s home race at Silverstone, a circuit which should play to the MCL60’s capabilities around ‘proper’ fast corners. The track has a mix of high-speed sweeps, seven of which are taken at 235kph or above (Abbey, Copse and Maggotts are up in the ‘Catalunya turn 14’ range), some mid-speed sections and two low-speed corners, broken up by straights of various lengths. A strong comparison can also be made to Barcelona with such high loads on the front-left tyre.

On top of that, McLaren also plans to bring a significant upgrade package for that race. Should the car’s areas of strengths and weaknesses remain the same, then those straights and high-speed corners should play into McLaren’s hands as Stella’s Barcelona analysis indicated.

The team is being cautious in its predictions, however, indicating the incoming upgrades are less of a performance-boosting package but rather a way of providing McLaren with a different development direction – not unlike what Ferrari and Mercedes said about their recent revisions. That may change where McLaren’s strengths lie, and they may not be able to exploit those new opportunities straight away.

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
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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