Formula One is being transformed although the process will take some years. Restrictions on spending have radically affected the bigger teams ability to spend their way to victory on the track.
The field is closing up and the latest ‘catch up’ plan agreed to allow the likes of Williams and others to update their ageing equipment and production facilities is only to be welcomed.
Aston Martin form vanishes
Whilst Red Bull have dominated, particularly with the RB19 in the hands of Max Verstappen, three has been notable breaks with the norm this year which have supposed many an experienced F1 observer.
Aston Martin came out of the blocks the quickest of the chasing pack, with Fernando Alonso claiming 6 podiums in the first 8 races. The Silverstone based team blew away their engine supplier Mercedes though the lack of points from Lance Stroll was always a concern.
There is paddock talk that the technical directive on flexible bodywork hurt Aston Martin who have been caught and passed by both Ferrari and Mercedes. That said had Stroll scored his fair share of points, Aston Martin would be still in the fight for second in the constructors’ championship with Mercedes.
The huge shock of the year has come from the team who gave Lewis his F1 debut, McLaren. The Woking based team have not won a championship since Hamilton’s in 2008 and over the past decade they have faded, becoming an ‘also ran’ in the F1 pecking order.
McLaren ‘the worst car’
McLaren started the season with the equal worst car, but they already knew at pre-season testing in Bahrain, they were going to ditch much of the design created under Andre Seidl who had left to head up Sauber.
The new team boss Andreas Stella took a big gamble and decided to restructure the team and dismiss their technical director James Key.
Much was written about the new flatter ‘matrix’ style structure at McLaren, with some old hands noting the team tried this once before. When McLaren lost Adrian Newey to Red Bull, Martin Whitmarsh implemented this kind of hierarchical organisation but it was ultimately scrapped as it failed to deliver.
Yet McLaren have now unleashed their locked up potential with the restructure and with David Sanchez – ex Ferrari head of vehicle design – about to come on board, the three heads all reporting into Stella are definitely better than one.
Red Bull outscored
Since the new upgrades/concept in Austria, McLaren have now scored more points than any other team with the exception of Red Bull. The gap to Aston Martin is now 11 points.
At the rate Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have scored over the past three races, its not beyond the bounds of reason McLaren can overhaul Ferrari’s lead which currently stands at 79 points.
Piastri claimed pole in the Sprint race in Qatar and went on to win his first race on the Saturday afternoon. Whilst Verstappen won the Grand Prix on Sunday, the race pace was close between Red Bull and McLaren, and once Norris and Piastri were in clear air they were faster than Verstappen by an average of 0.125s per lap.
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has labelled the McLaren charge as “scary” and that the Woking team are now their closest and most consistent competitor.
Marko says McLaren pace ‘scary’
Discussing the threat with Kronen Zeitung, Marko said: “We have set our pace on McLaren. That’s worth noting, what’s scary is that it happens on every track. They are our most consistent chasers, still gaining.
“It can probably be a tough battle for next year,” Marko continued, before claiming that the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes “can’t match the pace of McLaren and us”.
From Singapore onwards, McLaren have outscored Red Bull and with the world champions still struggling to help Perez regain some kind of form, there is a grave concern for there future.
McLaren are firing on both fronts, with Piastri taking his first win during the Sprint at the Qatar weekend. Meanwhile Sergio Perez was punished in there Grand Prix there times by the stewards with 5 second penalties for track limits transgressions as the Mexican battled for just one point in tenth place.
One more fix required
Lando Norris believes McLaren are not far from taking wins from Red Bull and Verstappen and he believes their car now just has one more tweak required to do so.
“If we can fix a little bit of this slow-speed [corner issues], if I can get a bit more what I believe the car needs to take that next step,” Lando told Motorsport Magazine.
“A bit of it is what we hopefully will have this weekend, then a bit of it will be what I want from a driving style point of view — that’s when I’m confident we can take the fight to the majority of the teams. Including Red Bull.”
Sergio Perez position at Red Bull has been repeatedly questioned this year and the standard reply from Christian Horner has always been he has a contract for 2024.
Yet the last three races have changed everything. No longer is it a theoretical problem for Red Bull to ponder, but the reality of another team outscoring them three weekends in a row has happened. Despite Verstappen’s brilliance, McLaren could challenge Red Bull for the coveted constructors’ title in 2024.