Formula One

F1 McLaren 2023 Preview: Not the Top Mid-Field Team Anymore?

Formula One F1 McLaren Car 2023
Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL60. 03.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Practice Day –, EMail: [email protected] © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images – Photo by Icon sport

McLaren entered the 2022 season with high expectations. After enjoying an unexpected resurgence in 2021, the legendary Woking-based operation looked set to retain its spot as the best mid-field team while occasionally battling near the front.

Reality turned out to be a lot harsher. McLaren struggled from the get-go, enduring a difficult second pre-season test in Bahrain and failing to live up to its 2021 performance. The team’s lone highlight was Lando Norris’ podium finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

For 2023, the British team will hope for a return to its form from two years ago. But with both Aston Martin and Alpine showing some encouraging pre-season testing results, has McLaren done enough to fix its own problems and challenge for the top of the mid-field honours?

Formula One McLaren 2023 Team Preview: Can the Team Challenge Its Mid-Field Rivals?

Pole Positions156
Constructors’ Championships8
2022 Constructors’ Standings5th (159 points)
McLaren’s F1 stats

Having ended a nine-year drought in 2021 with its Italian Grand Prix 1-2, McLaren looked set to take the next step in 2022. But the Woking team struggled with the new regulations, as the MCL36 often suffered from high tyre degradation.

McLaren scored 159 points, compared to 275 from the previous year. Norris’ drop wasn’t as steep, with the young Brit going from 160 to 122. Daniel Ricciardo, on the other hand, had a terrible year. Struggling to keep up with his teammate, the Aussie finished a distant 11th in the standings, with 37 points – down from 115 the year before.

As a result, McLaren decided to end Ricciardo’s contract with one year remaining on the deal. The British team kept feeding the rumour mill all off-season, with multiple drivers being speculated for Ricciardo’s seat: Indycar stars Pato O’Ward and Bryan Herta, 2021 Indycar champion Alex Palou and feeder series’ juggernaut Oscar Piastri.

Following a dragged-out contract dispute, McLaren managed to take Piastri out of Alpine and signed the Aussie prodigy. With a promising pair of drivers, will McLaren reclaim the spot as the top mid-field team?

McLaren Drivers in F1 2023

Lando Norris returns for his fifth season with McLaren, having just signed an extension that will keep him with the Woking team through 2025. Oscar Piastri makes his highly-anticipated F1 debut, replacing the struggling Daniel Ricciardo. The young Australian is signed through the 2026 season.

Lando Norris

Pole Positions1
2022 Drivers’ Standings7th (122 points)
Lando Norris’ F1 stats

Norris came into 2022 with high expectations after narrowly missing out on a maiden win at the Russian Grand Prix the year before. But while the young Brit did put up a respectable performance, McLaren’s limitations ended up costing him. Norris significantly outperformed Daniel Ricciardo for a second consecutive season, tripling his teammate’s points total.

With a rookie teammate, Norris’ role as a team leader will be even more important this year. Aside from leading the charge on track, Norris will also play a key role in developing the car as Piastri learns the ropes.

Over the past two seasons, the 23-year old showed his credentials as a number one driver. How much more will he mature over the course of 2023? Norris has also proved that he can deliver results even with a lesser car, as his podium at the Emilia Romagna last year shows. The biggest question is: how much will McLaren’s poor form hold him back this time?

Oscar Piastri

Pole Positions0
2022 Drivers’ StandingsDNP
Oscar Piastri’s F1 stats

Piastri created a lot of buzz over the past few seasons. An absolute beast in junior single seaters, the 21-year old from Melbourne went back-to-back-to-back by winning Formula Renault Eurocup, FIA F3 and FIA F2 titles over a three-year span. With nowhere left to race at, he was essentially forced to take a year off as a reserve driver for Alpine.

As the French team gave ambiguous signs regarding a potential promotion, Piastri decided to negotiate with other teams. The young Aussie signed with McLaren, leading to a contract dispute with his former team. The legal battle eventually went the British team’s way, allowing Piastri to avoid another sabbatical.

Piastri will find himself in uncharted territory this year. The Australian rookie will need time to get used to F1, especially driving for a team that isn’t anywhere near the top. Piastri was also a few tenths away from Norris’ pace in pre-season testing. If he manages to close the gap to his teammate before the end of the season, 2023 will have been a successful debut year for the Aussie.

F1 McLaren Car 2023 – The MCL60

McLaren clearly missed the mark with its 2022 car. The MCL36 struggled with tyre and brake wear, while also lacking in downforce. From the start of pre-season testing, it soon became obvious that the Woking team wasn’t going to be anywhere near its 2021 form.

Despite Norris saving a podium finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, McLaren wasn’t even the best mid-field team. The British squad finished the season behind Alpine in the constructors’ championship, as Ricciardo struggled mightily with the new car.

McLaren tried to fix its problems on the run, investing plenty of resources in improving and redesigning the MCL36 through the season. The MCL60 is essentially the next step in the 2022 car’s evolution process.

After opting for a minimalistic sidepod at the start of 2022, similar to Mercedes and Williams, the British squad slowly reversed course as the season progressed. McLaren’s solution is now closer to Red Bull’s, adopting ramp-shaped sidepods already seen in the late-2022 version of the MCL36.

In a similar solution adopted by most teams for 2023, McLaren also raised the front part of its sidepods in order to create more room underneath it. This is likely helped by a revised cooling system.

Other changes were relatively small, as the MCL60 retained most of its predecessor’s aero package. McLaren also incorporated even more exposed carbon parts into its livery, part of an effort to save wait by shedding paint.

Yet, despite all the attempts to improve on its 2022 project, McLaren continued to struggle. The Woking team completed the fewest laps in Bahrain, struggling with the same old problems: overheating brakes and a general lack of downforce. CEO Zak Brown was the first to admit that McLaren had, once again, “missed its mark”. Looks like 2023 will be another challenging year for the British team.

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