The Woking-based side started the 2022 campaign on the back foot as brake issues in the final pre-season test in Bahrain left them struggling in Sakhir’s opener.
The extent of his problems there prompted McLaren to put in place a turnaround plan to bring him back to the front of the pack – which appears to have worked with the team in a fight with Alpine for fourth in the championship builders.
But one of the legacies of that plan was that McLaren would opt for a series of major updates spaced out, rather than systematically bringing new parts to every race.
And that has often left him out of step with his rivals, who take performance steps with each race when new elements arrive.
Speaking about McLaren’s decision-making process opting for fewer but bigger upgrades, technical director James Key explained that things were set in stone following what happened in the very first race. .
“To be brutally honest, when you get a shock like Bahrain, you have to make a plan,” Key explained. “When you make a plan, you put everything in one direction, because mastering a plan is very difficult.
“I’ve been pushing this point a lot on every team I’ve been on: have a good run to start with, and you open up freedom. Get a shock, and you think, ‘Jesus is this where we are?’ , which we thought might be the case.
“Fortunately it wasn’t, but it could have been. So you have to say to yourself: ‘ok, here’s what we’re going to do and this race and this race will be a big step’.
“And it’s always kind of an effect of that.”
“I think if you can sink stuff, it’s definitely easier on the manpower and more efficient. But it’s a bit of a replica of the first run. Also, it gives everyone a structure for the development plan and clear timelines, which I think the team also appreciates. I would like to be in a more trickle-down approach, but that’s where we are at the moment.
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Key suggests fluctuations in form between teams, with McLaren having races where they were ahead of the midfield battle and other tougher events, could be explained by competitors not being in sync with updates.
That’s why he didn’t get too carried away with Lando Norris having managed to split the Mercedes in qualifying for the French GP last weekend.
“We have very short memories in this sport,” added Key. “We were faster than Mercedes in Monaco, for example. A month or two later, and it’s like, ‘wow you’re with Mercedes.’
“We have already done that. But in the meantime we also had really poor races. The reality is that I think we were expecting, hopefully, a small step forward.
“People bring upgrades at different times. I think Alpine bought one for Silverstone, for example. So we had a few runs from an older car and then brought something. I think we can expect to rock a bit as we go along.
Although Norris couldn’t match his solid qualifying form in the Paul Ricard race, Key feels the team just needs more time to better understand his package.
“Basically it kind of delivered what we thought it should, for the most part,” he said. “We are still analyzing the data, but above all, it has allowed us to move forward. He has a better feel, which was really important.
“Now we have to use it and work with it and see if we can exploit it a bit more and learn on different circuits. One of the problems we have had this year is that there have been ups and downs. low depending on the nature of the track.
“We’ll have to see if Hungary can, and I’m not saying we’re going to be with Mercedes in Hungary, but definitely step up to maybe where we were in Canada or Baku, for example.”