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Brown: The true test will be qualifying in Bahrain

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The new McLaren MCL38 Formula 1 car made its track debut at a soggy Silverstone Circuit with team chief executive Zak Brown targeting podiums as well as wins ahead of the 2024 Formula 1 season and knows the real pecking order will only be revealed at the end of qualifying during the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix weekend.

The former F1 champions finished fourth overall in 2023 with 24-year-old Lando Norris and 22-year-old Oscar Piastri in the McLaren cockpits. Their second year together. The Australian drivers’ second season in F1, the Briton’s sixth season in the top; flight with the Woking outfit.

Last season Norris finished on the podium seven times, including six-second places, while Piastri was second in Qatar and third in Japan.

On the occasion of the MCL38 breaking cover today at Silverstone, Brown told Sky Sports: “We feel good, it’s been a good winter. We’re happy with the development. It feels like we’ve continued on our development pace from where we were in the second half of last year.

“So as long as the data is accurate I think we should start pretty strong. Of course you never know what the competition is doing but we definitely feel we’ve taken a step forward.”

Brown: Our hopes, our goals, our ambition is definitely to take a step forward

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Norris has yet to win a Grand Prix in 104 starts while Piastri has only 22 grands prix under his belt, and already is a F1 Sprint Race Winner but Brown said a first ‘proper’ GP win for the team since Daniel Ricciardo’s 2021 victory at Monza could be on the cards.

“I think I’d say ambition versus expect because you ultimately don’t know what the competition has done and no one’s standing still,” Brown said when asked what he expected from the team.

“Our hopes, our goals, our ambition is definitely to take a step forward. We finished fourth in the championship last year but in the second half of the year we were the second or third quickest team. So our ambition is to move forward from there.

“We see no reason why… we can’t be winning races at some point over the year. So lots of podiums and some wins or certainly the ambition.

“The fantastic thing about this sport is how competitive it is, and therefore we must remain realistic as every team will have made progress in the off-season. The true test of whether we’ve made steps in the right direction will be qualifying in Bahrain.

“We’re all excited to go racing again, but we know there’s a long season ahead of us and a lot of work still to do to ensure we build on the progress we made throughout 2023,” added Brown in a team press release.

Both Piastri and Norris are signed on long-term contracts with McLaren

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Norris announced his extension deal with the Woking team last month and before the driver market went into overdrive with news of Lewis Hamilton’s switch from Mercedes to Ferrari in 2025.

Brown said that signing was not hastened by any heads-up about Hamilton’s move: “We’d signed him up previously. We were just waiting for him to get back [from winter break] to actually make the announcement.

“It was less about knowing specifically what was going on with Lewis and Ferrari and Mercedes as much as knowing Lando’s top of everybody’s list, ours’ included,” explained Brown.

Team principal Andrea Stella added in the press release: “Before we hit the track for competitive sessions, we have a lot of work to do, including putting the MCL38 through its paces during the Bahrain pre-season test.

“The team has done a good job over the winter, and we are confident we can hit the ground running, but we know we have important tasks at hand before the season starts. There are a number of innovations on the car, but not all the areas we want to address have been completed for our launch-spec car. Those areas now become the focus of our in-season development, which is already in progress.

“My thanks go to the entire team, both trackside and at MTC and MRC for their great efforts in ensuring the car was ready to hit the track today, as well as our colleagues at Mercedes HPP for their continued collaboration.

“We now turn our attention to the long season ahead as we look forward to Bahrain Testing next week,” concluded Stella. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin with Additional Reporting by GRANDPRIX247))