Continuing our team reviews for the 2021 season. Going in reverse Constructor’s Championship order. Next is the McLaren Mercedes F1 Team. Previous teams can be viewed here:
10. Haas Ferrari
After finishing 3rd in 2020, McLaren were confident they could continue their rebuilding exercise. The goal, to get themselves back to the front of the Formula One grid.
Development over the winter had been focussed on ensuing the Mercedes engine fitted into the McLaren. Following their switch from Renault power.
A lot of development had been undertaken during the latter period of the 2020 season in preparation for the new Mercedes engine. As a result, the development restrictions weren’t as much of an issue as it could have been. However, it meant McLaren weren’t able to really develop other parts of their car.
McLaren also lost Carlos Sainz to Ferrari and had replaced him with seven time race winner Daniel Ricciardo.
Lando Norris had been impressive in 2020, but it was generally believed that Ricciardo was coming in to be the new star driver. Norris is much younger and therefore still learning and developing.
McLaren’s driver line-up was viewed as being one of the strongest on the grid. After a good Bahrain practice, the team were quietly confident that they were continuing in the right direction.
McLaren’s aim was to strengthen their hold on 3rd position in the Constructor’s Championship. Hopefully they could also compete with Mercedes and Red Bull when the chance presented itself.
In testing, McLaren had an eye catching solution to the rear diffuser changes for 2021. It appeared they had found a way round the rules limiting their size. Ultimately, while a novel approach, no other team adopted it. Showing it clearly wasn’t the performance enhancer it might have initially appeared.
McLaren looked to have the third quickest car. A good position to allow them to strengthen their position from last year, leaving the team optimistic for the year ahead.
At Bahrain, Ricciardo was looking strong until he was involved in contact, effectively ending his race. Norris on the other hand finished in a strong 4th place.
At Imola, Norris was set for a front row start until his laptime was deleted for track limits in Q3. Nevertheless, he still managed to take the final podium spot in the race. Imola was the start of the divergence for the drivers results. Norris consistently being strong and scoring good results whereas Ricciardo was struggling with the car.
The Bahrain performance is deceptive. Ricciardo had his experience from testing to fall back onto and help him perform. Likewise, in Spain where a lot of testing was done in the past, Ricciardo showed more pace than he had previously.
Norris was comfortably the quicker driver in the early part of the season, scoring some great results. The podium in Imola and also a podium in Monaco where the team had a special livery for their fuel supplier Gulf.
Strong results continued with Norris generally picking up the best of the rest position behind the top teams. When the situation allowed, he was even beating their second drivers.
Another podium came at the Austrian Grand Prix where he had been so impressive in 2020. Ricciardo was definitely falling further behind his team mate.
At a wet Spa qualifying, Norris was extremely quick and was in contention for pole position. However, he was the first driver out in Q3 and aquaplaned into the wall, causing significant damage and ending his qualifying.
In Monza the McLaren was very strong because it had little drag and the drivers qualified up at the front ready for the sprint race. A slow start in the sprint got the two McLarens ahead of Hamilton and with a Bottas engine penalty, it was only Verstappen ahead on the race grid.
Ricciardo had a great start taking the lead from Verstappen and was a position he would never relinquish. Norris took advantage of the title protagonists crashing and a great move around the outside of Leclerc got him into second.
McLaren were the only team to score a 1-2 all season with the result at Monza. The scenes of celebration around the team and especially from Ricciardo, were fantastic to see. It showed just how much that result meant to Ricciardo and McLaren.
Norris followed this up with another strong weekend at Sochi, claiming his maiden pole. He should have really had the win as well had the team not forecast the weather wrong. Allowing Norris to stay out too long when he really should have pitted for intermediate tyres. He also didn’t want to relinquish the lead so wanted to stay out.
Ricciardo finished fourth in Sochi after he called the conditions correctly. His performance prior to the rain was not too impressive.
In the latter part of the season, Ferrari came back strong and both their drivers were scoring good points. Ricciardo was still struggling to score good points and it looked like 3rd in the Constructor’s battle would be going to Ferrari.
Ricciardo had a strong weekend in Austin, but apart from that he was generally not as quick as Norris. A faulty fuel sensor in Qatar meant he was told to fuel save in the first part of the race. Lapping over 2 seconds off the pace of Norris at some points. Ricciardo’s chances in the race were already over by time the fault was detected. He was too far down the field and in no position to score good points.
After the incident in Sochi, Norris’s results were not as strong as proceeding that race. There were a few incidents out of his control but it seemed like it had affected him mentally. He was not competing as often with the Ferrari’s, who had taken a step forward themselves.
In the end, Norris’s weaker results were partially responsible for McLaren failing to secure 3rd place in the Constructor’s Championship. Though the main reason for them falling to 4th was Ricciardo. He was unable to secure the results in the early part of the season when the McLaren was stronger.
McLaren was the only team to earn a 1-2 at any race this season. It clearly marks Monza out as the highest point.
Ricciardo getting the win was a big thing for him he admitted after the race as he had been struggling with his performances.
Norris had a strong season all-round. A third place podium in Monaco stands out. McLaren did not expect to be as quick as the Red Bull or Ferrari.
The team will likely view Sochi as the lowest point. Norris was on for his first win in F1 after his maiden pole position. However, the team weren’t aware of a second wave of incoming rain towards the end of the race. They didn’t overrule Norris to come into the pits, like Mercedes did with Hamilton, and it lost Norris the win.
For his normally very high standards, Ricciardo had a weak season. There were a lot of qualifying sessions where he failed to make it out of Q2 and even Q1!
They will have been very low points for a driver who has high expectations of himself. But also for the team who hired him to be a very strong driver for them.
McLaren’s target for next year is a continuation of the improvements they have been making over the previous years.
They are hoping the new regulations allow them to steal a march on the competition. A view held by many of the teams disappointed with their current position.
McLaren feel their position is at the front of the grid and want to get back there as soon as possible. The immediate aim for 2022 will be to take back 3rd in the Constructor’s from Ferrari and close the gap to the front.
In Lando Norris, they have one of the most exciting drivers on the grid. Given a good enough car he is clearly capable of winning races. Norris is still young and so is likely to get stronger each year.
From their other driver, McLaren will be hoping to get a lot more out of Daniel Ricciardo. If his time at Renault is any indication the second year at a team is significantly stronger. Ricciardo and McLaren will be hoping for the same here.
2022 will definitely be interesting for the team. Will Norris still be as impressive a driver if Ricciardo is delivering at the level he is capable of?
In other news: Formula E Race One Highlights
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