One year ago, McLaren were facing an uphill struggle as they prepared for the then-upcoming Formula 1 season, but in 12 months the fortunes of the Woking-based outfit have completely turned around and they find themselves as Red Bull’s likely challengers ahead of the 2024 F1 season.
Team principal Andrea Stella has overseen the turnaround, alongside McLaren CEO Zak Brown, with both men optimistic they can close the gap to F1’s dominant team – Red Bull – over the course of 2024, especially given their rate of car development which could well continue into the new season.
“We saw that last year we had a period of plateauing and we needed to change from a conceptual point of view the direction such that we could recover this momentum in terms of development,” Stella told the press.
“This year, we haven’t experienced this kind of plateauing in the development tracker and gradient, and at the same time from a conceptual point of view, we see the concepts we had establishing the CSR add quite a lot more to offer, just incremental gains that you can cache.
“And at the same time, some new ideas have also popped out in the technical department, which is the foundation for the upgrades that we will see in season and some of them I would expect it to be relatively early in the season. So a completely different scenario.”
Despite McLaren’s optimism in their own development, Stella was keen to point out that even though Red Bull never put any major upgrades on their car over the 2023 season, they will have developed their machine over that time.
“When we think specifically about Red Bull, there’s one element that obviously I think puts everyone in doubt as to what’s gonna happen in 2024 is the fact that they haven’t developed a car very much, so the question is have they cashed in the accumulated development that they will capitalise on to next year’s car,” Stella said.
“This is my theory, I can’t feel that Red Bull we’re not in condition to develop their car they might have decided not to deliver upgrades, but certainly, these may mean that their gradient kept going.
“So I will say Red Bull should be extremely competitive. And we will see where we are. We will see what kind of challenge we will be able to set on track. It’s important that we see we are doing a good job out of our own performance development. And we are confident that if we keep doing this, over time, we have an opportunity to close the gap.”
Brown was keen to add a note of caution: “Red Bull certainly seems like they didn’t develop last year to the level they could if they wanted to, so that could be an unpleasant surprise for all of us.”
McLaren’s wind tunnel impact
Part of that excitement felt within the team comes from the new wind tunnel McLaren brought online in September 2023 at the McLaren Technology Centre, having previously been renting Toyota’s wind tunnel in Germany.
“I will say that so far, we are on plan,” Stella said. “It’s also been interesting because we have been integrating the new infrastructure that we have delivered in 2023.
“So the MCL38 will be has actually been developed entirely at the MTC wind tunnel from September 2023 onwards. It’s been developed in the new simulator, and composite and metallic parts are being produced in the new manufacturing infrastructure facilities that we have delivered.
“So that’s a really exciting element heading into the 2024 season.”
Stella was also confident of maintaining the rate of development seen at McLaren in 2023, when they brought two major upgrades to their car – one in Austria and another in Singapore – as well as constant smaller in-season upgrades which catapulted them up the grid.
“When it comes to the wind tunnel development of the CFD development we see that the gradient we established last year that led to the Austria development and then the Singapore development seems like we can maintain it,” Stella maintained.
“So that’s also where I would expect the launch car to be at the start of the season. And you know like in the ground, we’re already starting to work on the further developments that we hope to bring relatively soon in season and they also seem to be quite interesting.”