The team picture
- Constructors standing: P4, 275 points
There have been some very tough times for both McLaren and Ferrari in recent seasons, and it was good to see both squads fully back in the thick of it as they conducted a spirited battle over third place in the constructors standings across the entire year. Ferrari might have emerged from that fight ahead on points, but McLaren had their fair share of successes along the way and probably won't be too disappointed or worried by how it all turned out for them.
The Woking-based team was commandingly in front in the constructors standings for the first ten rounds, thanks to a strong run of races. It was a double failure to score points in Hungary that was the first misfire in what had been up to then a very reliable operation, with Lando Norris wiped out by Valtteri Bottas through no fault of his own at the start of the race, and Daniel Ricciardo at the time still struggling to extract the maximum out of the MCL35M in qualifying which left him too much to do on Sunday to finish in the top ten.
Ricciardo would start to find his form after the summer break, and he was lucky to benefit from a clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton to be handed a clear run to victory - his first since Monaco in 2018 with Red Bull - in the Italian Grand Prix, with Norris right behind him for a McLaren 1-2. That was actually something of a reversal of form between them, with Norris having up to then been very much the star of the show at McLaren despite pre-season concerns that the arrival of the experienced Ricciardo would put the youngster in his place. However this wasn't the end of Ricciardo's struggles, and the team as a whole lost ground to Ferrari in the final sequence of races, leaving McLaren having to settle for fourth despite that excellent early run.
The driver line-up
- Daniel Ricciardo: P8, 115 points
- Lando Norris: P6, 160 points
Ricciardo has cut a frustrated figure at times in the paddock as he struggled to find the right way to 'turn on' the MCL35M in qualifying early in the season. With an early spell of five Saturdays where he failed to make the cut at the end of Q2, he was ultimately beaten by Norris on 15 qualifying occasions over the year. Ricciardo was quicker than Norris just seven times, and that fed into Sunday's race results where Norris also had the edge in 14 of the 20 Grands Prix in which both men lasted the course.
Given this, the share of points is closer than might be expected with Norris receiving 58 per cent to Ricciardo's 42 per cent. After the first 13 races Norris had almost double his team mate's points, but Ricciardo swept up an impressive haul in Italy with one from the sprint qualifying race, one for fastest lap of the race, and of course the full bounty for winning. But if the Australian thought this signalled a sustained return to top form he would have been disappointed by what followed, with only three more points-scoring outings from the final eight races. That was a combination of Ricciardo's own personal frustrations returning just at the point where the team's form also went slightly off the boil compared to Ferrari.
Meanwhile Norris also had a number of good races in 2021 with third place finishes at Emilia Romagna, Monaco and Austria to send him into the summer shutdown in a dizzying third place in the drives championship, and then crossing the line in second place behind Ricciardo at Monza. He could actually have won the race - he was clearly faster than his team mate at the front - but was ordered to hold position, and after just the mildest of quibbles duly fell into line as the loyal team player, reasoning that it wouldn't be long before his own time at the top of the podium would surely come. That hasn't materialised quite yet, but the team's current form and Norris' own evident talent are very much on his side.
How 2022 is looking for McLaren
Ricciardo's struggles adjusting to his new team this year are a bit of a concern, but let's put this into context: his first season at Renault in 2019 was a similar disappointment, but then the following year clicked and he was taking the French team to new heights even though he had already signed to move on to McLaren. If anything, Ricciardo is already ahead of schedule this time around with his victory at Monza, so if we get the same 'click' from him next season then it could be a quantum leap forward for driver and for the team.
Meanwhile Norris has more than shown that he's no flash in the pan in this sport and has coped admirably with the change of team mate. It's still sad to see the end of his 'bromance' with Carlos Sainz, who was ironically the man who pipped him to fifth place in the drivers standings at the very last race. The pair still hang out in the paddock and Norris continues to be one of the most well-liked drivers in the sport.
Norris' love and enjoyment of Formula 1 mirrors that of the team itself. Under CEO Zak Brown it's rekindled its passion for racing, and that shows in its overall approach and results. McLaren appears positive and upbeat going into 2022 when there will be new rules and regulations that could give an opportunity for any of the teams to make a technical breakthrough over their rivals. While Mercedes and Red Bull will likely remain out of reach, the team will still have its work cut out when it renews the tight battle for third place against Ferrari. On current form, it has every chance of doing so successfully.