Formula 1: McLaren’s pace in Australia a false dawn?

Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Formula 1 (Photo by Recep Sakar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Formula 1 (Photo by Recep Sakar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

McLaren bounced back with a solid team performance at Albert Park. What does the Australian Grand Prix tell us about the true potential of the MCL36 as the 2022 Formula 1 season progresses?

Plagued by issues to start the new era of Formula 1, issues headlined by scorching front brake temperatures, McLaren failed to convert their momentum of 2021 into 2022 championship contention.

Running at the rear of the field in the Bahrain Grand Prix alongside the other Mercedes customer teams, they gave the initial impression of a backmarker with a flawed car concept.

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Since their nightmare debut though, Lando Norris put points on the board with a seventh place finish in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and both he and Daniel Ricciardo remained within touch of one another for a double-point finish in the Australian Grand Prix, netting the team 18 points. This all happened without any upgrades applied to the car, according to Norris after the race.

Given the improvement in results without upgrades, what conclusions can be drawn about the MCL36 from these first three races?

After showing progressive improvement relative to their competition over the first three races, a soft conclusion can be drawn that the most influential factor in car performance on a given weekend is based upon layout and the nature of the circuit’s braking zones.

At Bahrain International Circuit, McLaren faced five heavy braking zones with a scattering of medium-speed corners in between to retain the high brake temperatures. Even in nighttime conditions with cool air, they were unable to get enough air into the front brake ducts to cool down the components.

The team then moved on to Jeddah Corniche Circuit, where they saw an improvement in pace thanks to the exceptionally lengthy straights, which funneled plenty of cool air into the newly designed brake ducts.

McLaren’s exceptional leap in pace at Albert Park Circuit can be considered a product of the overarching changes in circuit layout, which created a more flowing track. Carrying excess speed into corners in fifth gear and higher, drivers only encountered heavy braking zones at three places on the circuit, one of which (turn one) was additionally widened to improve apex speed.

This, combined with higher average speeds, enabled McLaren to run a race with fewer temperature concerns, despite the sunny Australian skies. Based on these presumptions in car characteristics, which races on the remainder of the calendar seemingly fit McLaren’s strengths the best?

The two circuits which seem most fitting are Miami and Silverstone. Fitting to the modern mold for street circuit design in the image of Jeddah, Miami has several of the same characteristics, including medium to high-speed “sweepers”. The heaviest of braking zones lead into corners which progressively open for a higher apex speed.

Silverstone is a naturally high-speed circuit with plenty of high-speed corners, reducing demand on the brakes. The only potential trouble with McLaren’s home race will be the apparent lack of overall downforce that is required to compete in the British Grand Prix.

But what does such a “track specific” car mean for the rest of the season?

With their current standing, McLaren find themselves as a round-to-round points threat that will see radical changes in relative pace in accordance with the given circuit. Given their specific issues, the future will be cloudy for the British outfit on a 2022 calendar that possesses plenty of high-speed circuits with high-stress braking zones as feature elements in their design.

Only three races into a lengthy 2022 Formula 1 campaign, there is plenty of time for teams to implement upgrades and stand out from the crowd in their management of the new budget cap. McLaren will be forced though to invest much of these limited financial resources into fixing issues that would have preferably been solved by the season opener Bahrain.

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