McLaren has explained how the low-grip conditions of the Miami Grand Prix and the “castle section” of the Azerbaijan circuit revealed clear weaknesses of the Formula 1 car.
Team Principal Andrea Stella says that despite the underbody damage suffered by Lando Norris and the failure of Oscar Piastri’s brake-by-wire system, the results from Miami (17th and 19th) are a “reality check”.
Looking at the data from the Miami race weekend, McLaren was the slowest of the ten teams. Qualifying pace was around 1.6 seconds behind leaders Red Bull, while race pace was also in last place, a little over 1.3 seconds per lap adrift.
The low-grip asphalt was blamed for this poor performance, although just a week earlier in Baku they were the fifth fastest team and were able to impress in both qualifying and the race. McLaren was only slightly inferior in the castle section, which also had little grip.
McLaren team boss: MCL60 only good with a lot of grip
According to former race engineer Stella, these areas highlight the MCL60 car’s weaknesses in situations where the accelerator pedal is not applied or the brake is released. The Italian explains: “There is a trend emerging. This trend is that our car becomes more competitive when the grip is high.”
“We think this trend is related to the fact that the lower the grip, the more time you have to spend on the brakes and on the accelerator. It’s a situation in which our car doesn’t work very well.”
“When the temperatures were low – track temp, ambient temp – the car was a lot happier. If you’re aggressive when braking, you minimize that mid-corner phase where you’re on the brake and off the accelerator. Immediately we’re winning Competitiveness.”
Stella: Trend was already seen in Baku
“If we look at Baku for example, with the new asphalt this year, the grip was high and in all the sections where you can brake hard, short corners like turn one and two, we were competitive,” says Stella. “But if you look at the castle section, where you have to roll in, we weren’t very competitive even in Baku, so that’s a trend.”
Stella stresses how important it is for McLaren to isolate and understand this trend so the restructured technical department can eliminate it with in-season developments. He continued: “It is important to understand this trend because it also sets the direction of development.”
“We knew that with the Baku upgrade [geänderter Unterboden] added some downforce but we didn’t change the characteristics of the car. So I’m not too surprised that we’re not very competitive in these low-grip conditions where we spend a lot of time on the brakes and on the accelerator.”
McLaren wants to focus on development
The Italian also says that after identifying the weak point, the team has been able to compensate for the limited CFD and wind tunnel possibilities and is strongly focused on a solution: “We see that the car is strong when braking on the straight. We see the car is strong in high speed sections.”
“The advantage is that you can steer and center your development. What we learn in these first races is that in this state we have to concentrate even more: off the brakes, off the gas and towards low speed. It does not change the speed of development.”
With Imola, Monaco and Barcelona, Formula 1 is now facing a triple header and many teams will bring updates to the track, especially at the first of the three races in Italy. Stella explains what to expect from McLaren: “Actually, what’s happening at Imola is what you signed off and sent to production a month or two ago, depending on the lead time.”
Big McLaren updates for Canada and Silverstone
“So it’s not like you can react in the time between now and Imola if you have a set-up problem. But at the moment we’re more concerned with the spec of the car, with the package and they have their own lead time, that you have to build, design and produce.”
“So what happens in Imola, we decided a month ago. There are indeed small developments for Imola. But they are insignificant compared to the step we have to take to be consistent in the points and that’s it, what we are striving for,” said the Italian.
However, major updates from McLaren are expected in June and July. “There will definitely be a lot more to come before the summer break,” says Stella. “We distribute these upgrades between Canada and Great Britain. We will avoid Austria because it is a sprint event.”
“And given the size of the package, we don’t dare to bring it to an event like this. We did it in Baku because it was just the underbody. But this is a major makeover and we will move the underbody to the UK .”