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McLaren has momentum, but can it join the fight up front? | NOW

Will Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo join the McLaren in the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull? The British formation made a strong impression in the winter tests and also recorded fast times in the free practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday. The team has momentum, but team boss Zak Brown is still gently on the brakes.

McLaren finished third in the manufacturers’ championship in 2020, but that was not entirely on its own. Racing Point (today’s Aston Martin) had a faster car and ended up without a point penalty for illegal brake cooling over McLaren.

While Aston Martin is now struggling with their further developed Mercedes copy, McLaren only took one element from Lewis Hamilton’s champion car: the engine. Renault was thanked after three seasons and the legendary McLaren-Mercedes combination is back on the grid.

The engine change seemed a disadvantage for a while. Due to the pandemic, the cars had to last a year longer and only limited improvements were allowed. McLaren both needed the ‘tokens’ that could be used for this to implement the Mercedes engine and, apart from the aerodynamics, could not do much about the car.

But during the test two weeks ago it became clear that McLaren has come out of the winter well. This was further confirmed with strong performances by, in particular, Norris in the first free practice sessions on Friday in Bahrain.

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The 21-year-old Briton already called his car “very complete” on Thursday. On Friday he drove the second time in the second practice, at 0.095 seconds from Max Verstappen. The question now is whether McLaren can really get involved in the fight at the front.

Timetable Bahrain

  • Third free practice: Saturday – 1 p.m.
  • Qualifying: Saturday – 4pm
  • Race: Sunday – 5pm

‘We are coming’

According to team boss Brown, that is still a bit too early. “Mercedes and Red Bull have been the teams to beat for a while now. We hope to close the gap, but it is unrealistic to think that we are already regularly at the front”, the American said on Friday. “But we are getting there and hope to join the fight in the foreseeable future.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said on Friday that his team has been hit relatively hard by the new rules, especially regarding the floor of the car. The main reason for this, according to the Austrian, is that the reigning champion’s car has a low rake, which means that the rear of the car is relatively close to the asphalt.

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The McLaren is a car with high rake. There is a lot of space between the floor and the car bottom at the back. (Photo: Getty Images)

McLaren has high rake and the Mercedes engine

Just like the Verstappen car, the McLaren has a high rake, and took a step in engine power thanks to the Mercedes power source. Both factors play a role in the steps taken by the papaya orange car. But whether that is enough? During the final race of 2020, Norris finished one minute behind winner Verstappen, despite a safety car. The gap that has to be closed with the top is therefore large.

According to Brown, McLaren has at least undergone the desired development in the winter. “Everything went according to plan. We must now maintain that progression.”

Ricciardo also sees that the former top team has started the way up. The Australian came over from Renault and will drive his first Grand Prix this weekend for the team that he says has “made a huge turnaround” in recent years. “And there is a lot of enthusiasm and motivation,” noted Ricciardo. “We really have the momentum within the team now.”

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