McLaren’s battle back in glory: Strong recovery after a bad start … now, can I challenge the F1 elite?

In the column you must read on the eve of the Miami Grand Prix inauguration, Sky Sports F1 expert Mark Hughes estimates McLaren’s twisted start to the season and whether their recent pace shows they can fight Red Bull and Ferrari for the title.

Last updated: 5/05/22 11:43

Mark Hughes of Sky F1 in his latest column deals with McLaren’s early season

Mark Hughes of Sky F1 in his latest column deals with McLaren’s early season

There were hopes after McLaren’s 1-2 breakthrough at Monza last year – his first win in nine years – that 2022 would mark his return to the status of an absolutely top team, battling for victories every weekend.

But it was always just a fan fantasy, not the expectation of the team itself. Still, his terrible start to the year in Bahrain – where McLaren was only the eighth fastest of the 10 teams, hampered by a lack of trial miles due to brake problems – was well below what the team expected. The recovery has been strong since then and Lando Norris gave the team its first podium this year in Imola.

Does it indicate such a quick recovery that the team could still emerge as a serious force this season?

Both the drivers and team boss Andreas Seidl have a measured realism about it. Daniel Ricciardo, as always, is in the best mood. “The recovery may have exceeded our expectations,” he says. “Bahrain should not have been too optimistic, at least in the short term. But there is still so much to learn with these cars [with the new regulations] so that the state of evolution and understanding is moving at a fairly rapid pace. So it was a nice little surprise.

Fans were in full force at the Miami Grand Prix opening ceremony ahead of this weekend's inaugural race

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Fans were in full force at the Miami Grand Prix opening ceremony ahead of this weekend’s inaugural race

Fans were in full force at the Miami Grand Prix opening ceremony ahead of this weekend’s inaugural race

“But sitting here today, the optimistic ambition is to be better than the third best team because the top two so far are ahead. It’s ambitious because the target will always be moving and Red Bull and Ferrari will have their development.”

“We have a relatively clear direction where we need to work,” Lando Norris says. “We need bigger steps, which should come during the year. But Red Bull and Ferrari are still almost 1s faster.”

Some of it is drive performance, but the calculated current deficit of Mercedes compared to Red Bull and Ferrari PU – as implied by GPS – is no more than about 0.15 s per lap, while McLaren’s front deficit is much higher than yes.

Lando Norris (right) and Daniel Ricciardo (left) are sixth and 11th, respectively

Lando Norris (right) and Daniel Ricciardo (left) are sixth and 11th, respectively

“What we can influence as a team is the performance of the car,” says Seidl, determined not to make PU an excuse. “[Imola] it was the second weekend in a row in which the car proved to be a solid base, to basically work. But that doesn’t excite us too much because we’re ambitious.

“We have a clear plan for areas where we have to work on the car to bring more performance. But we have to be realistic about the gap. It’s huge. We know about the shortcomings we have as a team compared to these teams – tunnel, simulator. No magic. we wake up because we want to fight these guys. We’re trying to find shortcuts, but we have to stay realistic. “

Two sports legends join forces on a golf course as Lewis Hamilton and Tom Brady take part in a charity event ahead of the Miami GP

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Two sports legends join forces on a golf course as Lewis Hamilton and Tom Brady take part in a charity event ahead of the Miami GP

Two sports legends join forces on a golf course as Lewis Hamilton and Tom Brady take part in a charity event ahead of the Miami GP

But that doesn’t mean there can’t be moments of glory along the way. “There are races ahead where the track is spinning in the usual competitive order,” admits Seidl, “like at Monza last year. That could happen this year. Which would be great if we keep making continuous progress until we get to the point in a few years.” every weekend we can fight for race victories. “

Could Miami be one of those opportunities this weekend?

Board a McLaren driver Land Norris in introductory training in Saudi Arabia

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Board a McLaren driver Land Norris in introductory training in Saudi Arabia

Board a McLaren driver Land Norris in introductory training in Saudi Arabia

His schedule involves a lot of extended sections for high speeds – something McLaren seemed well suited to in the middle of the Melbourne lap. Where the car seems less happy is when braking and there are five areas for heavy braking in the circle. In that sense, instead of narrowing the gap behind Ferrari and Red Bull, one might look at Alpine’s rear defense which, in Fernando Alonso’s hands, looked terrible in Australia, similarly strong as McLaren in a straight line but better at braking. Next, the improved shape of the heavily upgraded Alfa Romeo should be considered. Without a delay in boxing at Imola, Valtteri Bottas could threaten Norris ’podium.

So the battle to return is celebrated far from what was won at McLaren, but at least it is still in battle.

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