Whilst Red Bull are dominating this years world championship, the new Formula One regulations introduced in 2022 appear to be achieving their goals. The combination of the financial regulations which includes a spending limit together with the new ground effect car design rules have certainly levelled the playing field for the majority of the field.
Aston Martin made a huge leap this year from a lowly seventh in last seasons title race to second for much of the season to date. Had the Silverstone based team had a driver alongside Alonso capable of scoring even half the points of the Spaniard they would still be leading Mercedes in the constructors’ race.
McLaren SHOCK leap forward
Then came the biggest surprise in recent seasons. McLaren shifted their fortunes from being a team who occasionally made it into final qualifying to one which has challenged for pole position since their big upgrade in Austria.
The heavily revised MCL60 has scored more heavily over the last five events than even the resurgent Mercedes who finally ditched their failing zero pod W14 car.
Yet the Achilles Heel was exposed at the Belgium Grand Prix just before the summer break. On a circuit where low drag is at a premium along the section from turn one to the chicane at the end of the Kemmel straight, both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri struggled to match the top speed of the leading teams.
With Monza up next this flaw in the aerodynamic package of the McLaren cars could potentially be exposed in even more dramatic fashion.
Monza final test for McLaren
Formula One teams over the decades have traditionally brought Monza specific aero packages which cut downforce by running skinny rear wings.
However, Monza not only tests the straight line speed of a Formula One car ut also the traction out of the low speed chicanes hat dominate the early part of the lap, and it is here McLaren face their biggest challenge.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was believed to be the first test for the revised McLaren cars given its twisty layout has often been described as similar to a “go-kart” type circuit.
However with Lando Norris claiming a P2 and team mate Oscar Piastri only missing out on his first podium due to an ill timed safety car, the assembled media believed McLaren had cracked their low speed problems.
McLaren ‘modifed’ wing for Monza
Yet Lando Norris was quick to dispel the popular belief that the new McLaren car had now proved it would be good at every circuit suggesting the turns in Budapest were more “slow medium speed” rather than in the slow speed corners suggested.
The McLaren team principal has now indicated that his team have been focused on bringing a ‘Monza Special’ rear wing to reduce drag along the long start/finish straight and improve top speed.
“We needed to urgently activate some actions to find some top speed. Because Monza is going to set some challenges similar to what we had at Spa,” reveals Andrea Stella.
“There will be some modifications which hopefully will allow us to not only be quick in terms of lap time, but also to be raceable in terms of top speed,” added the new McLaren boss.
Norris ‘coy’ over expected performance
Its uncertain whether McLaren will merely modify an existing rear wing for Monza or bring an all new design, though it is the beam wing which sits above the diffuser in the current F1 car designs which provides much of the downforce and associated drag.
Lando Norris was coy when asked how the team Monza package was designed to cope with the circuit specific characteristics.
“No comment,” he grinned when asked by Sky F1’s Rachael Brooks.
The when questioned whether he expected Monza to be tight for McLaren, Norris replied:
McLaren may sacrifice one event
“Yes. There’s been so much focus on trying to get the car we have now, which is completely the correct decision to have done, so much focus and time spent on creating this there’s some things we are quite far behind on.
“But I’d happily take 80% good races and 20% bad rather than vice versa.
“We know it, we admit it, which I think is a good thing, but we know we are in for a pretty tough race.”
However as a bellwether Norris has been repeatedly cautious since the McLaren Austrian upgrade was introduced. At Silverstone he was wary of how their improved downforce package would cope with the high speed nature of the circuit.
Them ignored Norris in Zandvoort
Yet Lando managed to hold off quicker cars because of the performance of the McLaren through the high speed twisty section prior to the Hanger straight. He claimed second place behind race winner Max Verstappen.
Even if McLaren struggle to find a good setup for Monza this should be the last race of the year where their car struggles with its revised aero package.
Whilst the result last time out in the Netherlands was poor for the Woking based team, this was more the result of bad strategic decisions rather than the car being unseated to the track.
As they rain came early in the race, Norris asked to pit for wet weather tyres but the team insisted he stay out to the end of lap 3. When they finally agreed to the tyre switch Norris had fallen out of the point from his start position of second.
McLaren boss admits mistake
Meanwhile Sergio Perez who started in 6th made the Norris call as well and catapulted himself into the lead of the race for a number of laps.
“The second lap it was a very logical time to come in,” Stella admitted after the event.
“We had the evidence, the information to come in, and then with Lando we hesitated at that stage and we came in the lap after, and lost quite a bit of time.
“We have to review the communications because on one side, the driver goes through the rain, you realise ‘I need to pit’.
Norris cautious over predicted result
Clearly the McLaren pit wall cost Norris a shot at a podium finish though Lando threw his team a bone as he suggested the race pace of his car may not have been good enough even without the pit stop catastrophe.
Norris revealed he felt the McLaren race pace was “pretty terrible” compared to Mercedes and Aston Martin which means his team is yet “a long way” from where it needs to be.”
“Our one-lap pace is still a lot more competitive than our race pace,” said Lando
“I think that’s becoming more and more evident and we are doing whatever we can to fix it and make steps forward.
McLaren ‘mystery’ over Monza remains
“But at the minute it’s nowhere near enough.”
So the mystery of how McLaren will fair in Monza remains. Norris has doubted the car’s performance in previous rounds where it has then been competitive.
Fans of the historic British racing marque will be watching free practice on Friday for glimpses of hope that Piastri and Norris will in fact have a great weekend outing at the Cathedral of Speed.
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 30, 2023