The Mclaren F1 Team found a new-level of confidence in 2021, and demonstrated some of the form seen in the team’s glory days. Yes, the British team did agonisingly miss out on third in the Constructors’ Championship to Scuderia Ferrari but nevertheless it was a year to remember.
Out of the shadow of Carlos Sainz Jr, Lando Norris drove his heart out all season long, and was just a meer few laps away from victory at the Russian Grand Prix, where he also claimed his first Formula One Pole Position. The British driver was consistently capable of battling not only both Ferrari drivers but also the Red Bull Racing and Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team line-ups. Norris was unfortunate to just come short of finishing fifth in the Driver’s Championship, the British driver ended the year in sixth despite actually being third for the vast majority of it.
Daniel Ricciardo’s first season at Mclaren was it’s fair to say, eventful! The Australian took too long adjusting to the MCL35M, and was beaten far too many times by his less experienced team-mate. As always though the Honey Badger gritted his teeth and dug-deep, eventually finding his way towards the top half of the grid. Of course the height of Ricciardo’s year came at the Italian Grand Prix, where he claimed his first victory since 2018, and the team’s first since 2012. This Grand Prix was the peak of Ricciardo’s season, who from then on continued to trail behind Norris.
The Italian Grand Prix was of course the team’s greatest moment from the 2021 season, a race which not only saw Ricciardo claim his first win since the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix but was also Mclaren’s first win since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix. That’s not all, with Norris completing a one-two for Mclaren at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, it was Mclaren’s first one-two finish since the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix. Mclaren were the only team in 2021 to achieve a one-two finish, neither Red Bull or Mercedes could match this feat.
Ricciardo’s victory in Italy was so nearly followed up by victory in Russia by Norris, only for a sudden change of weather condition to snatch his first Formula One win away from him. The Russian Grand Prix is both a high and low moment for the team, Norris famously claimed his first-ever F1 pole in similarly rapidly changing conditions and looked in complete control of the majority of the Grand Prix. Norris would’ve almost certainly taken victory had the rain not arrived, or if he had pitted sooner for Intermediate tyres. It was the bravest of risks to stay out on Slicks, a risk that was clearly not favoured by the elements.
Norris’s defence of the lead however over Hamilton is what keeps the Russian Grand Prix as a high for the team, many fail to keep the Seven-Time World Champion behind, Norris though proved that he is more than capable of battling with the best and is for sure a contender in future World Championships. His ability to battle with the strongest in the field saw him claim further podiums in 2021 at the Emilia Romagna, Monaco and Austrian Grand Prix’s.
Despite 2021 being a season full of so much positivity for Mclaren, there was some particularly disappointing moments for the team. As mentioned the Russian Grand Prix victory let alone a podium, was cruelly taken from Norris in the most unpredictable of circumstances. The sudden downpour which appeared to only be happening at certain parts of the track, incredibly got stronger each of the closing few laps. It was a risky call by Norris to try and brave the elements on his Slicks, one which cost him not only victory but also a podium.
The wet conditions tended not to be Mclaren’s friend in 2021, the incredible Hungarian Grand Prix was the only event during the season where the team failed to score any points. Norris after a strong qualifying was taken out of the race after being hit by Valtteri Bottas, whereas Ricciardo could only salvage an eleventh place finish. The following Belgian Grand Prix saw one of the most dramatic Qualifying Sessions of the season, one which Norris and Mclaren will unfortunately struggle to forget. Norris suffered a huge crash at the top Eau Rouge, in what was some of the most treacherous conditions seen in modern Formula One.
Mclaren’s season from the Mexican Grand Prix onwards was undoubtedly a run of low moments for the team, as they saw their hopes of claiming third in the Constructors’ snatched by Ferrari. Ferrari’s late season upgrades were simply too much for Mclaren to compete with, who were beaten consistently in the final rounds of the season by the Prancing Horses. Mclaren’s late season struggles weren’t all down to Ferrari’s new found pace, the British team suffered a considerable run of bad luck.
In Qualifying Norris was the main man at Mclaren, the British driver out-qualified his new-team-mate fifteen times in 2021, Ricciardo only managed to beat Norris seven times in Qualifying. It was the same story during the Sprint Qualifying events last season, Norris came out on top at two out of three of the events.
Norris’s best qualifying position in 2021 was of course first, after claiming the first Pole Position of his Formula One career as previously mentioned. Ricciardo’s best qualifying performance wasn’t too far off of Norris’s, the Australian technically qualified second for the Italian Grand Prix, after a strong Sprint Qualifying at Monza. His best result just from the usual qualifying session itself however in 2021, was fourth at the Belgian Grand Prix.
When it came to Sunday it was the exact same story at Mclaren, with Norris finishing above Ricciardo fifteen times in 2021, with Ricciardo finishing above Norris on seven occasions. Ricciardo’s best finish was obviously his victory at Monza with Norris’s best result being also at the Italian Grand Prix after finishing a career best second-place.
The Mclaren duo were level-pegged when it came to retirements during the season, with Norris suffering his sole DNF at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Ricciardo suffering his at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. After clearly spending the season in Norris’s shadow, Ricciardo did accomplish something in 2021 which the young British driver didn’t. Ricciardo took the fastest lap of the Italian Grand Prix, a feat which was dominated by Red Bull and Mercedes during the year.
What To Expect In 2022?
It is so difficult to predict what will happen in 2022 with the complete overhaul of the sports regulations, however there is a sneaky suspicion that Mclaren will be right there in the fight. 2021 was their first season back with a Mercedes engine, this of course led to some problems, the Woking-based team should have a better understanding now though of how the chassis needs to be designed to get the most out of the Mercedes power unit. There is no reason why Mclaren can’t be a leading figure in 2022, and claim victory on a more regular basis.
Next season offers Norris a huge opportunity as the British driver prepares to enter his fourth season in the sport, as for the first time really in his F1 career he will be on a more equal playing field. The next step for Norris is to take his first victory, he’s proven countless times now that he has the pace and the talent to fight at the front, the only thing left is finishing Sunday on the top step. If he wants to fight for the title, he will have to claim victory in the first half of the 2022 season.
Ricciardo has possibly the biggest year of his F1 career ahead of him in 2022, 2021 was really the first time where he has been beaten consistently by a team-mate. Like Norris, Ricciardo is on an equal playing field in 2022 with all the drivers having to adapt their driving styles to suit the new machinery, his experience could play vital in adapting his style as quickly as possible. If he struggles in 2022, then Mclaren’s big-money signing might be looking over his shoulder at the likes of Mclaren IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward, who tested for the team at the end of season Young Driver Test and is highly regarded by Mclaren CEO Zak Brown.