McLaren ‘surprised’ at rate they are catching Red Bull and Mercedes

McLaren ‘surprised’ at rate they are catching Red Bull and Mercedes

McLaren are surprised at the rate they are closing in on frontrunners Red Bull and Mercedes, with the team aiming for another P3 finish.

McLaren are a team on the rise. From struggling in the backfield just a few short years ago, to locking down third in the Constructors’ Championship last year, is no easy feat.

The Woking-based team are looking to replicate a repeat performance of 2020, currently tied for third place with Ferrari. With both teams on 163 points.

Big changes in team personnel, drivers, as well as car design and different performance enhancements, have helped propel McLaren back into the spotlight.

But while 2020 was very much a joint achievement between Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. The 2021 Formula 1 season has been left up to Norris alone. As new teammate Daniel Ricciardo continues to struggle getting peak performance out of the MCL35M.

McLaren Racing Director Andrea Stella was surprised with the team’s P3 finish last year, as he is again this year. However, with the high amount of points likely required to hold onto P3, he has labelled it an ‘ambitious’ task.

“Being P3 is a great achievement,” Stella said. “It was slightly surprising last year, fighting with the Racing Point.

“And it is as well this year, because we’re fighting with Ferrari, that is obviously a great team for whom we have a lot of respect. P3, we’ll see realistically if we will be able to confirm it, because the rate of points required per race to be P3 this year is very high.

“We are scoring I think 16 points on average per race [prior to Hungary], which is, realistically, quite ambitious.”

The majority of the team’s constructors’ points have come from Norris. If McLaren have any hope of retaining ‘best of the rest’ for this season, they need Ricciardo to carry his fair share of the load.

Ferrari are a completely different team in terms of performance from last year. And they are only getting stronger as the season progresses. They have managed to claw back lost horsepower from 2020, and have one of the best driver line-ups with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz at the helm.

But while McLaren are tied up in a fight with the Scuderia for third, they have also started closing the gap towards both Red Bull and Mercedes. McLaren CEO Zak Brown recently said the team is realistically still a few years off from fighting for a World Championship. However, a win here or there isn’t out of the question.

The on track gains the team have made in hunting down the frontrunners has been noticeable. While we have seen Red Bull and Mercedes more often than not continue to run at the front of the pack, the gap between them and McLaren is shrinking. With Norris able to mix it up in qualifying and fight for podiums on race day.

“We were a bit surprised, I have to say at some races, to be able to compete so closely with Mercedes and Red Bull,” Stella conceded.

“Like, for example, the second race in Austria, we were genuinely very close to pole position, and genuinely quick in the race, even if in the race, normally Red Bull and Mercedes tend to open up the gap compared to the midfield. That’s a trend we have seen throughout the year.”

With the new regulations coming into effect from 2022, which include a completely new car redesign for the entire field. Coupled with the decreasing budget cap, McLaren may find themselves tangling with Red Bull and Mercedes sooner rather than later.