McLaren started the 2020 F1 season with an unexpected podium. Lando Norris was the man to capture it in Austria and now heading in to this third season with McLaren, The Briton is excited for the future and the partnership with Mercedes having told motorsport.com that it will be a 'better package’ for McLaren.
At the final race of the season, in Abu Dhabi, the hotly contested battle for third in the Constructors’ Championship, was won by McLaren – having overturned a 10-point deficit to Racing Point. This ensured 2020 was McLaren’s best season since 2012. Now, with a Mercedes engine replacing the team’s Renault power unit after three years in 2021, many fans will be hoping for the same success seen from this partnership in the late 90s and 2000s.
At a time when McLaren was about to see Carlos Sainz depart the team to be replaced by the much-loved Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris could not have had a better end to the 2020 season. With a Renault power unit beneath him, the Briton was able to qualify fourth at the Yas Marina Circuit. Not only this, but Norris’ time was just 0.251 seconds off pole position…having been 1.6 seconds off pole the year before.
Now, with McLaren having announced in September 2019 that it would once again partner with Mercedes until at least 2024, this means there is a fourth team on the F1 grid to be powered by Mercedes.
McLaren will join Aston Martin and Williams as customer teams. However, such an opportunity has not been without sacrifice due to the fact that McLaren needed to use up two of its development tokens for the updated MCL35 car in 2021.
Despite this, Lando Norris, speaking to motorsport.com, has indicated that he believes the new power unit would not “complicate things” and instead offer a step in performance.
"I think all round, it's a better package," Norris said. "It's more power. Touch wood, it's more reliability. It's a slightly better-fitting package, so as just a whole, there's a lot of positives about it…I'm not into everything, so I'm sure there are maybe some negatives there, and we have a good relationship with Renault, so things are very smooth now and we know them, and there's going to be a lot of new things.”
"I'm sure there's going to be some things we have to understand and we're not going to be quite as natural with, with just the mechanics and the engineers and how they understand everything. Of course they'll do a great job in that transition in trying to understand it.
"There's going to be some things which are a bit trickier, but as a package, it should be much better, and that gives us good confidence it will take us that little bit further towards the top."
Lando Norris continued to explain how due to the fact the majority of the previous chassis would be carried over, the issues experienced in 2020 could still be explored.
"With the tricky car that we had and the struggles and the positives and negatives, there's still many things we need to work on through ," Norris said. "I guess the good thing with having bad things with the car or negatives is that you can try and work on them and try and turn them into positives, and it will make the car quicker. That's a good thing.
"It's not like we have an amazing car which is slow, and we don't know how to work on it. I think we know the direction we need to work in. It's just very difficult to unlock it and find those things.
"That's probably why you see in the last two or three years, teams have been very similar - I guess apart from Ferrari. Although you're spending however much money, it's just not easy for engineers to figure out these exact things which can be millimetres of difference with all these different parts…We're working very closely with the factory and the aero department and things like that, and everyone in the factory to continue working hard and developing the car into next year."
The resurgence of McLaren has also been welcomed by seven-time F1 Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton. The Briton, himself a champion for McLaren in 2008, has previously spoken to the media about how pleased he is to see more on track battles with his former team:
“I’m really happy to see a McLaren so close,” Hamilton said. “They’ve got changes, and they’re using our engine next year. It’s great to see that they’re ending the year with a good car…Perhaps they can be in the fight with us next year. If it makes it a three-way team championship, that would be amazing for the fans to see.”
McLaren’s team principal though reminded fans that although progress is being made there is a lot of work still to come.
“It’s obviously nice for all of us at McLaren that Lewis, who started his career with McLaren and won his first title with McLaren, is respecting and watching the progress we’re making as a team,” said Andreas Seidl. “But we have a clear picture and a realistic picture of where we are as a team. We know that it will take time until we have everything in place we need to challenge for the top positions again in Formula 1.”
Consistency and efficiency were key to McLaren’s 2020 success. If the Woking-based team can continue to demonstrate this in 2021 with the Mercedes power unit a frontrunning challenge could soon be on the horizon. Due to the closeness of the pack in 2020, something tells me Aston Martin and Renault may yet ensure McLaren do not have it all their own way in 2021.
This is yet another reason why the 2021 Formula One season could really be something special indeed.
Well, we can always hope.
Meanwhile, AlphaTauri are also hopeful about 2021 may bring the team: