How far can McLaren climb with car rivals now say is the second-fastest in F1?

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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In the last two races, McLaren have scored twice as many points as they did over the previous nine grands prix put together.

The team’s recent upgrade has transformed the performance of the team which was last in the championship after the first two races. Rivals now regard them as the second fastest team in Formula 1.

Having quickly overhauled Alpine, McLaren lie a distant fifth in the constructors’ standings. There is a gap of 80 points to make up on Ferrari in fourth place, and McLaren have only scored 87 so far.

But after Lando Norris finished runner-up to Max Verstappen at both the British and Hungarian grands prix, the dominant Red Bull is now the only team with more second place finishes this year.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
McLaren endured a dire start to the season
McLaren have been among the front-runners for two weekends now. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon said it was already “to be expected” that Norris and Oscar Piastri would qualify third and fourth in Hungary.

The suddenness of McLaren’s leap to the front has been a particular blow for Alpine. “A couple of races ago we were fighting with McLaren and even the Alfas,” rued Ocon’s team mate Pierre Gasly, “and this weekend we haven’t been able to do it.”

Mercedes, currently second in the constructors’ championship, have been out-scored by McLaren over the last two races. “You can see that McLaren has leapfrogged everybody else with an update they didn’t expect to come in that powerful,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff at Silverstone.

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“Whatever it was, they gained a second from it and leapfrogged Aston Martin, Ferrari, who have been as we have seen as really strong contenders at the beginning of the season, and now they are nowhere.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Silverstone, 2023
Norris stunned by taking the lead at Silverstone
Aston Martin started the season with the second-fastest car, but have since dropped down the order as McLaren – who were fifth in the 2022 standings and sat sixth only two rounds ago – and Mercedes have become podium contenders.

McLaren’s breakthrough in pace has swollen the ranks of contenders for ‘best of the rest’ behind Red Bull, reckons Aston Martin’s performance director Tom McCullough. “They obviously had a very difficult start to the year but they’ve come back strongly and they’ve been competitive. Really the last three events we’ve seen that.

“So they’re right in the mix and they’re doing a good job. It’s going to make it a really good fun battle. I think we’re going to have several teams fighting for that second place, really.”

Sergio Perez said the McLarens were “really strong” as he qualified his Red Bull behind both of them for the sixth time in a row in Hungary. Even his team mate Max Verstappen had to contend with the pace of the MCL60s at Silverstone, where Norris led for four laps.

Other drivers whose teams have made more modest progress are looking on jealously at what McLaren have been able to achieve. Carlos Sainz Jnr, who left the Woking squad to join Ferrari two years ago, said “McLaren right now looks like the second team on the road.”

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“We looked like that in Austria, and suddenly Silverstone and Hungary has put us back a bit where we were at the beginning of the year,” he added. “So a very good job done by them.”

Mercedes’ George Russell agrees with Sainz. “It is absolutely clear they are true contenders for the second-fastest team. It’s very odd how Aston Martin were clearly the second best at the start of the year, and they don’t seem to be so competitive right now. Ferrari haven’t made much progress, and McLaren have made a huge jump.

“If it wasn’t for McLaren we’d be very, very satisfied with the progress we’re making, moving ahead of the midfield, pulling that gap on our rivals, closing in on Red Bull. But McLaren have just totally thrown it in the mix. But gives you optimism that there is potential to make big steps.”

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McLaren’s competitiveness at the Hungaroring, a track they did not expect would suit their car, made a bigger statement than their podium at Silverstone. The Hungaroring posed a very different challenge, and one they mastered better than all but Red Bull.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Silverstone, 2023
McLaren are closing on the three teams ahead
Mercedes, who sit 136 points ahead of McLaren and are second in the standings, are the only team other than Red Bull to have got both of their cars in the top five in more races than McLaren. But prior to last weekend, McLaren’s longest points-scoring run was two races in a row. Only Williams had less consistent top ten form.

McLaren may have shot past Alpine in the points table, but the rate they need to outscore the teams ahead to fight them in the championship would require their podium run to continue. You have to look back to 2012 for the last time that happened.

But unless Ferrari and Aston Martin can strike back at the resurgent McLaren in the second half of the season, third in the points is at least a possibility. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the team which started the season so poorly.

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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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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11 comments on “How far can McLaren climb with car rivals now say is the second-fastest in F1?”

  1. While overhauling AM & Ferrari in the WCC is a long shot, even if theoretically possible.
    I doubt take could pull off such a feat over the remaining eleven GPs.

  2. @jerejj

    Aston martin have scored only 9 points in the last 3 race weekends… while Mclaren has scored 58. I reckon, Mclaren will be on par, if not ahead of Aston, within 6 race weekends. Lets not forget Aston also has Stroll.. who won’t be scoring more than a couple of points for the remainder of the season.

    It will be interesting to see the battle between Mclaren and Ferrari though. Ferrari will be far more consistent as the 3rd to 4th fastest team each weekend, so consistently taking 8 points from them over the remaining 10 races might be difficult, but not too far fetched. After all, it just takes one or two weekends of Ferrari being Ferrari for them to really drop the ball.

    I don’t see Mclaren catching Mercedes though. Their drivers are too consistent to let such a huge lead disappear.

    1. @todfod Valid points.

    2. I agree that it is certainly doable, provided McLaren is able to build on their current form and keep a constantly high level without dropping back or showing hugely uncompetative in several races.

      I could see them do it, it certainly is one of the interesting “stories” we see developing this season. Will also be interesting to see how Piastri develops vs. Norris since he is already pretty close after only 12 races.

    3. @todfod McLaren have actually scored 70 points in the last 3 races

      Lando 4th, 2nd, 2nd = 48
      Oscar 4th, 5th = 22

    4. I think however the real difference between mercedes and ferrari is not on the drivers, but on the pit wall\development team, so more like stuff outside the drivers’ control.

  3. I have no doubt McLaren will end up third in the Constructors Championship with their current pace.

    In a sport of fractions of seconds, what they’ve accomplished with their latest upgrades is simply amazing.

    Mercedes have too big a gap to be able to be caught, and their car on light fuel is very quick – second fastest to Red Bull.

    Aston Martin (aka Two Drivers One Car) are sitting ducks as Fernando can only do so much by himself. How and why F1 media are not peppering Mike Krack about why Lance Stroll is not under pressure to keep his seat for 2024 is beyond me. Yes, daddy owns the team and he is unlikely to be replaced, but at least make it uncomfortable publicly for the team not to admit it. Lance Stroll’s 2023 no-show in what was the second fastest car to start season is a bigger story than Checo in the Red Bull. Had he done his job, it would have helped possibly keep third from Ferrari.

    1. How and why F1 media are not peppering Mike Krack about why Lance Stroll is not under pressure to keep his seat for 2024 is beyond me.

      Have you asked any of them?

      at least make it uncomfortable publicly for the team not to admit it.

      Hmmmm difficult one that🤔🤔 Perhaps they are more interested in journalism ?

    2. peppering Mike Krack

      That sounds uncomfortable…

  4. *Aston Martin (aka Two Cars One Driver)…

  5. Big whoop…
    McLaren are merely pushing their engines 100%, while Aston and Alpine are considering the longevity of the engines, and are preserving them in order to avoid grid place penalties later on in the season.

    I am a Lando fan, but I fear this is short term gains and long term pains for McLaren.

    Also, aren’t the development tokens re-distributed after the summer break? Seems Alpine may have played a strategic game there…

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