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Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Parc Ferme: Asleep in the Lando of Norris

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Question: What’s orange and blue, and slides down tables? Answer: McLaren Formula 1 team.

I refer, of course, to the Woking-based outfit’s statistical performance over the past three years in the Constructors’ World Championship.

This might all seem a bit cruel as they have long since dragged their way out of the lows of 2014/15/16. However, their failure to build on the third-place finish in 2020 suggests they are not really closing that gap to the big boys.

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They (McLaren) could have finished a slot higher in 2022 and looked set to do so in the early part of the season. Then Alpine fought back and overtook them in Austria. Their last chance to seriously challenge Alpine for fourth was then buried at the Brazilian Grand Prix courtesy of a double DNF.

The first, at Daniel Ricciardo’s hands as he needlessly connected with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in the opening lap. The second, when the PU of Lando Norris threw in the towel.

Blame it on the ‘Badger’

Villeneuve: Ricciardo's time at McLaren is over

It is easy to argue that Ricciardo is the primary reason Alpine beat McLaren to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship. Both Alpine drivers made healthy contributions to the French team’s points tally, whereas at McLaren the bulk of the task fell on one driver to bring home all the skins.

Norris ended the season with 122 points and Ricciardo 37. In contrast, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso achieved 92 and 81 points, respectively.

McLaren, and in particular Zak Brown, have been very generous on this point, frequently stating that the Aussie’s performance was not related to them coming in behind Team France; much in the same way Harry Kane’s missed penalty against France wasn’t the reason for England’s earlier-than-planned exit from the World Cup. Give it up, guys; we saw it, we woz there.

Neither fish nor flesh

However, Daniel’s on track struggles were only one of the issues for the team throughout the 2022 season. The MCL36 represented the first true James Key design car since he arrived in 2019. However, there was no great design innovation in evidence, and the end product fell into the relative ‘safe’ category across the grid.

And, like many teams struggling with the new 2022 regulations, the big issues only became apparent after the fact when the simulated actions of a marine mammal floored their CFD simulations.

Same same, but different

Norris-Ricciardo-France-2022

Like its engine supplier’s version, the McLaren chassis was unpredictable and draggy. In contrast, it also suffered from excessive rear tyre wear and struggled with mechanical grip in the slower turns at higher track temperatures. Something all probably related.

Key indicated on several occasions throughout the season that the MCL36’s issues were around development not set-up. The rear suspension arrangement being just one example. The standard F1 “porpoising” problems were resolved relatively quickly, but the others hung around for the duration.

I think I can see the McLaren problem…

The young designer is confident that they have the solutions for 2023 (although I haven’t met one yet who isn’t). Still, I expect they will produce a significantly more competitive car next season. A necessary requisite if they want to hang on to the best driver on the grid yet to score a maiden victory!

Wake me up before you go-go!

In summary, responsibility for maintaining McLaren’s credibility on track fell to the sleepy-faced Norris, whose subsequent heroics regularly produced results that allowed his team to punch above their weight. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Honey Badger whose departure was hastened by the sudden availability of Oscar Piastri.

For the second year running, Ricciardo found himself in that darkest of dark towns– Loserville, F1 population in 2022: three. Norris may campaign for an understanding of mental health issues, but in the highly competitive environment of F1, compassion has no place.

We can only hope that a sabbatical at Red Bull ER can restore Ricciardo’s wings and that we see him celebrate some more F1 “shoeys” in the future.