The McLaren F1 Team come into the 2021 Formula 1 season with renewed optimism of a strong year after a switch to Mercedes-Benz power and the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo.
McLaren ended 2020 with third place in the Constructors’ Championship, and after an encouraging, apparently problem-free pre-season test at the Bahrain International Circuit, they head into the new year aiming for further progress and perhaps a first race victory since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.
What Happened in 2020?
2020 could not have started much better for McLaren, with Lando Norris securing his maiden podium finish and the fastest lap in the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix. Thanks to a penalty for Lewis Hamilton, Norris was given the tough task of closing down the gap between himself and his fellow Briton, and the fastest lap on the final lap ensured he took a remarkable third place finish.
Norris had some very solid performances throughout the year, with fourth place finishes coming in the Italian and Bahrain Grands Prix, and fifth place finishes in the Styrian, British and Abu Dhabi races.
Team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. also stood on the podium last year, with the Spaniard coming close to victory in the Italian Grand Prix before being forced for second best to Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda’s Pierre Gasly.
Sainz led early on in the Portuguese Grand Prix as a few spots of rain made the track a tricky one to race on. He took a fourth place finish in the Sakhir Grand Prix as well as fifth place finishes in the Austrian, Eifel, Turkish and Bahrain Grands Prix.
Only eight points separated the team-mates at the end of the season, with Sainz edging the team-mate battle in sixth in the Drivers’ Championship and Norris ninth. However, their combined score was enough to see them beat the BWT Racing Point Formula One Team and Renault DP World F1 Team to third place in the Constructors’ Championship, their best finish in the standings since 2012.
What Has Changed at McLaren…
Perhaps the two biggest changes at McLaren over the off-season has been in the driver and engine departments. Sainz’s departure to Scuderia Ferrari was quickly offset by the signing of Ricciardo, and he is set to begin what appears to be a fun but determined partnership with Norris.
The Australian is a multiple race winner in Formula 1, although it has been more than two years now since Ricciardo stood on the top step of the podium. What McLaren do get with Ricciardo though, is a determined, never-give-up racer with lofty ambitions to be World Champion.
Another massive change has come in the engine department, with the team splitting with Renault after three seasons to return to Mercedes-Benz power for the first time since 2014. McLaren and Mercedes had a fruitful relationship in its previous partnership, and there will be optimism within Woking that good times are again just around the corner.
The only negative, of sorts, is that returning to Mercedes-power has meant McLaren were forced to use their two development tokens in adapting the MCL35M to accommodate the new power unit. It might leave them a little vulnerable elsewhere as a consequence.
What to Expect in 2021…
If pre-season testing is anything to go by, the McLaren team are looking strong heading into the new campaign, with both Ricciardo and Norris enjoying positive days behind the wheel of the MCL35M in Bahrain.
McLaren is looking to become a genuine front-running team once more, and they are hoping the MCL35M gives them another step towards getting involved in the battle for race wins and podium finishes.
There is no reason why McLaren should at least match their third place in the Constructors’ Championship of last season in 2021, and if the car is as good as it seemed straight out of the box in Bahrain, then they could be fighting for race wins and multiple podiums this year.