Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023

McLaren seeking more than just downforce gains from major upgrade

2023 Austrian Grand Prix

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McLaren are targeting more than just downforce gains from the major upgrade they will begin to introduce for their MCL60 this weekend, says Lando Norris.

The team is rolling out a package of new parts over the next three rounds, starting in Austria this weekend, as it strives to reverse its slump in form since last season.

One significant weakness of the car is its performance through long corners, which there are several of at the Red Bull Ring, the venue for this weekend’s race. Norris said the team needs to improve how its car behaves through corners like these, and adding more downforce isn’t the only change they must make.

“We struggle in corners,” Norris explained. “Long corners are definitely a lot worse for us, high-speed corners are the best. High-speed corners, we’re actually very competitive. In high-speed we’re, I would say, close to being one of the best on the track. But the opposite on the slow-speed corners in a way.

“If you take the last sector in Barcelona, turn 10 and turn 12, this is a disaster for us. It’s so painful.

“But it’s different things, it’s not just the fact it’s a long corner. It’s how you’re able to drive corners, how you’re able to release the brake, that we just don’t have. That’s just not good either. It’s not just that we’re missing 20 points of downforce on the front, 20 points downforce on the rear. It’s the actual handling, the characteristic of the car that we also need to fix in some ways.”

Some of the changes McLaren are looking to make address long-standing characteristics in their car’s handling, said Norris, who has been with the team since he arrived in F1 in 2019.

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“There are feelings I have in the car that we’ve had for the last five years and haven’t changed. So trying to understand all of these and actually make a difference, that’s also what we need if we want to compete and be a better team.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Albert Park, 2023
Sixth in Australia is Norris’ best result so far
McLaren’s cars have performed notably better over single flying laps than they have in race stints so far this year. Norris and team mate Oscar Piastri have started the last two races inside the top 10 but failed to score points.

Other teams also see wide variations between their performance in qualifying and the race, and Norris believes this explains why they lag behind Red Bull, who have dominated the season so far.

“It definitely seems more evident that you see, say, Ferrari better on a Saturday, worse on Sunday. Red Bull are just good in both senses. They’re extremely good on Sunday. Mercedes were pretty good in Barcelona on Sunday, their race pace was very strong.

“We different seem a little bit better on a Saturday then comparing to a Sunday. But I wouldn’t say it’s too different to normal or even to last year. I think the tyres make things a little bit harder, so if you don’t have the correct balance to go with how these tyres act, therefore you struggle with things at the same time.

“But there’s just a lot of things that Red Bull do very well from a cooling end and all that side of stuff, from an aerodynamic side as well, that makes it an easier car to drive at the same time as just being quick. Even if we had the kind of the same overall downforce as what the Red Bull have, we wouldn’t be able to beat the Red Bull because of the characteristics at the same time which need be correct.

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“That’s why certain cars like a Ferrari will be able to compete against the Red Bull on a Saturday sometimes, but if you go to a Sunday it’s miles off the pace. It’s just the characteristic of how the car handles through the corners and with the tyres and things like that, it’s a bigger player. So that’s what we’re trying to work out.

“It’s not simply that we just need 30 points more front, 30 points more rear, it’s how those 30 points actually stay through a corner and things like that, which again is even more complicated than what we’d like.”

Understanding what they need to change to address their performance deficit is “extremely difficult”, said Norris, but he believes the team is making progress which will be reflected in their coming upgrade.

“We are getting there. There’s clear evidence that we’ve taken some good steps in the right direction, going down the right path, that’s very evident from what we see back at the factory. So things are definitely looking better, looking more hopeful.”

McLaren have scored 17 points so far this year compared to 65 at the same stage last season. Norris is eager to discover what the upgrade brings but admitted he is trying not to get too excited by the possibility of suddenly having a more competitive car.

“Of course I look forward to it,” he said. “There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into it, too. I think we’ve been quite patient with what we’ve had, we’ve been chipping away at many other things at the same time, so we’ve not brought a lot of lap time – like, pure lap time – to the table, since the beginning of the year. Of course, we had the new floor in Baku but that was more philosophy than absolute performance.

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“But putting it all together, putting in the work that we’ve been doing, I think we’ve been doing a good job with what we’ve had, made the most of the opportunities that we’ve had. Maybe one or two that we’ve missed out on, but that’s about it.

“So anything that’s new – and there’s been a lot of work, a lot of changes – seeing all of this kind of come together and see what we can do with it [is encouraging]. But of course it’s not on track just yet.

“I’m confident it will be a step forward, but how much is the question. So I don’t want to get too overexcited about all of it like I never do. A lot of work that’s gone into it, so I’m excited to see all of that kind of come through and see what we’re capable of doing.”

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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...
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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1 comments on “McLaren seeking more than just downforce gains from major upgrade”

  1. Hopefully they’ll at least show some sort of a step in the right direction, but judging by Lando’s comments, there’s a fundamental issue that they seem to have been dealing with for several seasons.

    Sounds a little like engineers are saying that certain things are optimised and not listening to feedback from the people who actually drive the things.

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