McLaren: Upgraded MCL38 performing better than expected

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McLaren team principal Andrea Stella says the upgrades recently implemented on its MCL38 are delivering more performance than what the team’s simulation numbers projected.

In Miami, McLaren introduced a full package of revisions on future race winner Lando Norris’ car that ran from front to back and which included, among other modifications, a completely new front wing, new front suspension geometry, a revised floor and sidepod inlets, new bodywork and updated rear suspension.

At Imola, Oscar Piastri benefited from the full array of changes which have clearly boosted the MCL38’s aero efficiency and pace.

The Aussie qualified second behind poleman Max Verstappen in Saturday’s shootout, just 0.074s behind the Red Bull charger while Norris was third, 0.091s adrift from the Dutchman.

But perhaps the most encouraging sign from McLaren is the fact that its developments are exceeding the team’s initial expectations as defined by its sim data.

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“From a competitiveness point of view, I have to say we are quite happy with what we see. We would have not expected to be this close to Red Bull,” Stella said on Saturday at Imola, quoted by Motorsport Week.

“It means that definitely the upgrades delivered lap time, because before the upgrades, we were tenths off Red Bull. Like Japan, we were six-tenths.

“A little closer in China, but still a bit off, at least on a single lap. So, we have improved from a lap time point of view.

“We know what the simulation would say in terms of how much the upgrades would deliver. I think on track, once again, we seem to find slightly more.

“It’s almost like you have, you know, an extra premium once you get your car to work better.”

Interestingly, Verstappen largely owed his 0.074 margin over Piastri in Q3 to a timely tow provided by Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg on his final flyer, which suggests that on pure pace, McLaren is faster than Red Bull at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

But Stella, while acknowledging Verstappen’s lucky draft in Q3, also pointed to a slight mistake by the Dutchman that likely took away the Red Bull’s tow gain, highlighting the “many factors” that come into play when margins are so tight.

“You know, a tow in a track with this characteristic can happen,” the Italian explained.

“He was a little lucky there. I think he also had a mistake in the final corner, too. So Verstappen was in condition to score a pole position today.

“The gaps are so close that it could have been a matter not necessarily and only of car performance and driver’s merit.

“It could have been a function of little things here and there, a gust of wind or finding the right tow at the right time.

“He could benefit from there, but I think this doesn’t detract from the fact that I think he deserves to be in pole position.

“At the same time, we were in condition to be in pole position. But when the gaps are so close, there are many factors at play.”

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella (©McLaren).

Looking ahead to Sunday’s race, Stella insists strong pace will be key for McLaren’s drivers to perform well, regardless of the strategy that will be chosen.

However, the McLaren team boss also acknowledged Ferrari's competitiveness, particularly based on Charles Leclerc's impressive long run times in practice.

McLaren will therefore need to contend with both Verstappen and Ferrari’s during Sunday’s 63-lap event.

“In general, we hope and we would like never to find ourselves in a condition where we roll the dice,” Stella said.

“It’s like we try to use some logical consideration and strategic consideration to see what’s the best approach to maximise the result.

“We have to say that the run to corner two here is one of the longest of the season. So, not necessarily the position on the grid will be the position, let’s say, at the end of lap one. We will see.


“In general, there’s some strategic options, because the hard tyres can go relatively long.

“So you can stop early and go for a long run and try to work with the undercut. Or you may stop later and then you might have to overtake some people but with fresher tyres. So, there’s a few options. We will see.

“But the most important thing is to have the pace, to be in condition to deploy these options, I would say. And then we will see tomorrow based on how the race unfolds.

“I still think that Ferrari are very competitive. Some of the lap times, especially Leclerc put together in free practice in his long run, to us look quite impressive.

“So, if he materialises those lap times, we will not only have to look at Verstappen, we will definitely have to think of Ferrari as well.”

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