COLUMN: McLaren is quietly setting itself up for a strong season

21-02-2019 18:45 | Updated: 21-02-2019 22:18
by Jake Williams-Smith
Column
COLUMN: McLaren is quietly setting itself up for a strong season

The first week of winter testing is in the books and while the talk may be centred around Ferrari's strong start to 2019, another team is quietly going about their business. McLaren might be on the up.

It has been a miserable period to be a McLaren fan since the introduction of the hybrid power unit to Formula One. The team abandoned the strongest package on the grid in Mercedes in a bid to beat the three-pointed star at their own game.

In order to win the championship, McLaren would need to ditch the customer team role and become priority number one for their power unit supplier. Honda and McLaren reignited their iconic partnership and an F1 icon was back.

While the thinking behind the move was probably correct, the results were catastrophic. Three seasons of woe for the team saw them squander the final years of Fernando Alonso's career and effectively end Stoffel Vandoorne's before it could truly begin.

But that is now a chapter of the past, and although 2018 was hardly a season to write home about, this year could be the year McLaren finally get back on track.

Barcelona once again plays host to winter testing and whilst the focus of many is aimed at the top of the pecking order and the battle between Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull, the Woking-based team is racking up the mileage and completing run plans every day so far.

An apparent gearbox issue sidelined Carlos Sainz for a period on day three but that single issue aside, the week has been a positive one. 

Talk from Red Bull suggests that Honda has made a step forward however they do seem to be the team talking the most at the moment whilst everyone else remains focused on themselves so perhaps McLaren should not be too worried.

Interestingly, those who have stood trackside and seen the 2019 cars in action suggest that the midfield will be a very tight battle this year with some of the usual suspects struggling.

Indeed data from Pirelli indicates that the midfield fight will be intense this season, with Renault, Toro Rosso and Alfa Romeo putting together a strong package for the year but McLaren is not far away from this scrap.

Further reports indicate that Racing Point and Haas are amongst the biggest losers of the week, dealing with set up and drivability issues throughout the first test.

Seasons past have seen McLaren try to grab some headlines with a fast time, a glory run towards the end of a testing day and it appeared as though history would repeat itself once more. With the team's Bahraini backer in attendance in Barcelona, Carlos Sainz's time on day one a low fuel run at the end of the session skewed the true performance of the car. 

However, Lando Norris, McLaren's newest highly-rated rookie, completed a 26-lap race stint on the final day of testing on the C1 compound tyre (the hardest available to the teams). The times that he achieved were not only consistent but competitive, lapping in the 1:23's on average.

Although fuel loads are an unknown factor, the length and consistency of the stint, as well as the compound of tyre in which it was completed on, should provide a great reference point heading into the second week of testing.

More reports during the week suggest a sense of calm and relief at the team that, whilst the drivers have recognised areas that require improvement ahead of Melbourne, the team is on the right track in crucial areas.

It is no coincidence either that once again, many of the McLaren creations on the MCL34 have been slowly copied up and down the pitlane as the week has progressed. The small engine cover fin has been popping up on multiple cars over the week as well as the innovative bargeboard designs the team unveiled just a week ago in Woking.

So while they will likely not be winning a race this season, there is an air of optimism at McLaren that they have made an important step in steadying the boat and recovering to where they believe they should be.

Read more about: McLaren

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