McLaren can still address weaknesses with its car for 2021 despite the restrictions placed on it through the switch to a Mercedes power unit next season.
Formula 1 teams agreed to a freeze of many car components between 2020 and 2021 in order to keep costs down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That results in a particularly challenging situation for McLaren, which is the only team changing power unit supplier over the winter, and is using up a number of development tokens as a result. However, technical director James Key says there’s still room for his team to focus on the most pressing areas it needs to.
“The midfield battle has been incredibly close this year,” Key said. “It’s ebbed and flowed depending on the circuit, tires, weather conditions and, of course, car development. We’re talking about a tenth, or even half a tenth, of a second making the difference.
“We’ve been able to identify the areas where our competitors are stronger than us and established the weaknesses of our car. Certain tracks and conditions, particularly in the latter part of the season, have not played to our strengths. I think there’s enough scope within the regulations to address these weaknesses for 2021. Obviously, if you had a completely blank sheet of paper you could do even more, but the areas we need to improve aren’t related to the fundamental architecture of the car.”
McLaren finished third in the constructors’ championship and is hoping to partially close the gap to the top two when it switches to Mercedes. Key said the team had to sacrifice some immediate performance gains by introducing parts during 2020 that would then be locked in.
“We definitely started strong and probably surprised some people because we didn’t really show our pace in winter testing,” he said. “We introduced developments throughout the season, perhaps not quite as quickly as some teams, but we’ve taken time to learn about these developments and how they impact the car. Most have improved performance and remained on the car since their introduction.
“Some parts we would have liked to have had longer to develop – they were slightly immature compared to what they would have been if we had introduced them next year. Take the new nose, for example. Mid-season there was a homologation deadline for the nose of the car which meant, because we didn’t want to stick with the concept we started 2020 with, we had to bring forward the 2021 concept to meet this deadline.”