Russian GP: McLaren lacking competitive edge compared to Monza

Russian GP: McLaren lacking competitive edge compared to Monza

After a drop in performance during FP1 at the Russian GP, McLaren recovered some lost ground in FP2, with Lando Norris picking up P4.

McLaren got off to a somewhat slow start during FP1 at the Russian GP. While Sochi provides some elements where the MCL35M is in its prime, such as the long straights, it also dishes out challenging 90-degree corners, an aspect where the McLaren car has struggled throughout the 2021 Formula 1 season.

Set up and balance issues were evident throughout the session, with both cars tracking down the time sheet, particularly Daniel Ricciardo. While Lando Norris had the rear end slide out on him on several occasions, one of which seemed to be while entering pit lane at the conclusion of running.

“Today was a bit up and down – we struggled quite a bit in P1, but we made quite a few changes on the car for the second session which improved things,” Norris said. “That progress has made me feel a bit more confident in the car this afternoon and given us a more positive feeling going into tomorrow.

“Some of our strengths from Monza aren’t as obvious at this track, and there’s more of the types of corners here where we’re not as strong. But it can still feel relatively good, it just doesn’t always translate into actual lap-time. We’re not as competitive as we were in Monza, but we still have a decent feeling and we can still be competitive compared to the teams we’re really racing against. There are a lot of things to take into account for tomorrow with the weather forecast, so there’s a lot to think about overnight to prepare ourselves for tomorrow.”

While Norris was able to get more comfortable for FP2, picking up the pace and finishing P4, Ricciardo missed a large chunk of the session thanks to a power unit change. His time on the track was further diminished after Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi caused a red flag in the second half of the session.

With rain forecast for much of Saturday, there is potential for Ricciardo to lose serious practice time out on track. FP3 may not go ahead if conditions are considered to severe, while it was announced qualifying is likely to be pushed back later in the day, or postponed until Sunday morning. Should no qualifying be able to take place, the grid will be set based off the results of FP2, which would see Norris P4 and Ricciardo P17.

“This morning, we struggled quite a bit to get comfortable and there wasn’t that much pace,” said Ricciardo. “We made some changes with swapping the power unit for FP2, but then we had a delay getting out, and then we had yellows, red flags and then people around us on high fuel. It was a bit of a lost session really, so we have some homework tonight. Fortunately, Lando looked more comfortable and quicker in FP2, so we’ll try to learn from that. For us, not the most inspiring day, but still a lot we can work on to improve ahead of qualifying.”

However, in good news for McLaren, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will both be starting from the back of the grid after taking new power units. With both Mercedes cars likely starting from one and two, there is a real chance for either Norris or Ricciardo to start from the second row, with a potential podium on offer.