Despite losing 3rd place in the constructors’ standings to Ferrari, Andreas Seidl, McLaren F1 manager, has already said he was happy with his team’s season: because what mattered to him was this. t is to close the gap in pure performance on Mercedes and Red Bull.
This is indeed visible in the statistics: McLaren was 0.9% slower on average than the top team in each Grand Prix, down from 1.4% last year. There is therefore clear progress.
And this is all the more meritorious as McLaren F1 had two problems to deal with during the last offseason. The first was perhaps the most existential, namely the very survival of the team, so heavily has the McLaren group been affected by the pandemic.
The second may seem a little less important in comparison but it was nonetheless crucial, for the performance of this year. Namely the integration of a new power unit, Mercedes, instead of Renault.
As James Key, McLaren’s technical director, reminds us, this task was no less difficult: because in times of health restrictions, and with development limited by tokens, Woking had a lot to do and to lose.
“We tried to do this when the sport was stopped in 2020, that’s really when you have to discuss the important aspects of installing a new engine and its impact. «
“So the program has been very difficult in that regard, because it started late and most of the work to be done was done at home for both sides, McLaren and Mercedes. So we had to compromise that we couldn’t just meet and chat around a table, or stand around a test bench and watch an engine, etc. «
“We also had to deal with the complexities of the new rulebook which limited what we could actually change due to the chip spending. So in this regard, we had more challenges than usual. «
Fortunately the Mercedes power unit seems to be very accommodating to install, continues the former Toro Rosso.
“The installation of the engine itself was relatively straightforward. The Mercedes power unit is a really neat and neat piece of engineering; it is compact, very easy to work with, there are no big pieces of machinery sticking out or big bundles of cables and other things to try to accommodate. It is simply a very racy set. «
“So in terms of the physical engineering work to put it into a car, it was a pleasure to work with and we had fantastic support from Mercedes during these trying times. «
McLaren had also anticipated this change: from the 2020 season, before the entry into force of development limitations and the chassis freeze, the team had notably modified its suspensions to get ahead, in addition to bringing a new nose.
In fact with the Mercedes power unit, James Key specifies that McLaren had more room for improvement in terms of aerodynamic development.
“This has allowed us to continue at a reasonable pace of development. Everything that has been done on the car has been positive and we haven’t had any hiccups. We had a new front wing in Barcelona which was a really good step forward for us, a great job from the front wing group with good characteristics. «
“The specs are definitely better than last year. So all of these things could have gone on. «
Clearly, however, before the new aerodynamic regulations came into effect next year, James Key did not seek to maximize the potential of the MCL35M.
“We went through some things that might have been questioned before, but knowing that development will stop much earlier in 2021 than usual, we also went through all the little things. Everything worked and everything stayed on the car, so that’s a positive. «