McLaren have been the talk of the paddock ever since their stunning qualifying at the 2023 British Grand Prix, where they went on to record a second and fourth place with Oscar Piastri unlucky not to score his first podium in Formula 1.
And despite assuring fans that success wouldn’t be repeated at the Hungaroring, Lando Norris went on to do just that: securing McLaren‘s first back-to-back podiums since 2012.
It’s a turnaround that couldn’t have looked more unlikely at the start of 2023, as the team underwent a torrid testing week before enduring an even more dismal season-opening Bahrain GP.
Piastri became the first retirement of the 2023 F1 season just 13 laps in, and Norris finished dead last and was the only driver two laps down after pitting six times to manage a hydraulics issue on his MCL60.
But that’s all turned around now and having beaten Mercedes twice in two races, can they catch them to finish in the top two of the F1 constructors’ championship for the first time since 2011?
The ingredients for success
McLaren have arguably the second-best lineup on the grid, Norris and Piastri would certainly rank in the top half with the debate to be had against Red Bull and Ferrari.
Norris is an absolute star of F1 and looks so at home at McLaren, he’s devastating quick all weekend, every weekend and couples that with a maturity in the paddock that belies both his age and off-track antics.
But as Aston Martin have shown in 2023, having a quick car and a star lead driver does not a great team make, and Piastri has proved an exceptional foil in his debut campaign.
The Australian came into F1 as one of the most-hyped junior prospects having completed an unprecedented hat-trick of F2–F3–Formula Renault Eurocup (the three top feeder series before F1) in successive years. But following a year out of racing his ugly break-up from Alpine, where team principal Otmar Szafnauer questioned his character and integrity, could Piastri fulfill that promise?
He’s answered with a resounding yes. As early as the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP, where Piastri stormed to eighth place and showed himself well up for the fight with Norris, he’s catapulted into the conversation for a top-ten driver in the sport and there’s plenty more to come.
He’s also dialled into the car in a way that Daniel Ricciardo never could, and what a car to dial into right now
After the Hungarian GP, Norris praised the team’s balance between downforce and driveability since their latest upgrade and that dual improvement really been the key.
That translated most at the high-speed Silverstone circuit and Norris was concerned that wouldn’t show out the same in Hungary, but he needn’t have worried.
They should thrive at Spa and Zandvoort too, though predicting running orders too far down the line is a mug’s game in 2023.
But any car that can quickly is a safe bet to do well in F1, and McLaren have that nailed down right now.
Can McLaren overhaul Mercedes?
McLaren sit on 87 points after Hungary, 136 behind Mercedes‘ total of 223 with 11 races to go.
Crunching the numbers, that means they need to outscore Mercedes by 12.5 points a race to overhaul the Black Arrows.
And since the upgrades arrived on both cars in Silverstone they’ve outscored them by 13 points… Across both races.
So it’s going to be difficult. Even if McLaren finish second and third at every race until the end of the season they’d need Mercedes to be fourth and sixth each time to reach the magic number.
When Red Bull look like locking down every race win remaining in the season it’s just so hard to fashion a double-figure deficit over another team so closely matched on pace.
They’d need to pull further clear and hope Ferrari or Aston Martin can disrupt Mercedes‘ plans, the other problem is their rivals won’t stop working at Brackley and could emerge from the summer break as the clear second-placed team for the first time in 2023.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for McLaren. Aston and Ferrari are both very much within range if they can keep these performances up, at 97 and 80 points away respectively.
Unfortunately the mean British racing green machines seem to be falling further away with each race and if McLaren can outscored them by 9 points per race then they’ll catch them by Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, they only need 7.5 more points per race than Ferrari, and McLaren have been running a much bigger margin on both their rivals since Silverstone.
Can they keep that up? We’ll see next time out at Spa.
Where is the next F1 2023 race?
With the F1 circus finished at the Hungaroring, we move on to the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix which will a sprint weekend held between Spa-Francorchamps on July 28-30.