McLaren boss Andreas Seidl was satisfied. “We scored nine points. More than our direct opponents.” Bavarian means Alps, Alfa Romeo and Alfa Torri. But the direct opponent in Monte Carlo was Mercedes. In qualifying, Lando Norris had three-tenths of the fastest Mercedes drivers. Seidl reveals that “Lando left twenty in Rascasse”. That could have been the Verstappen era.
In the race, the McLaren top seed lost his place to George Russell due to strategy. While Russell was on track until lap 21 to switch straight from rain to slick tires, McLaren decided to take the middle step. On lap 17, Norris had a 3.9sec lead over Russell Inter Medias. He reappeared 11.1 seconds behind his opponent for fifth place.
Norris, one step at a time
For McLaren, it was a forward-looking move. Max Verstappen was fourth, 13 seconds ahead of Norris. This gap can only be filled by a risk-taking strategy. It seemed to work at first, too. Norris gained up to seven seconds per lap over drivers who were still slipping on the track on worn-out tires in rough weather.
Russell grasped like a hiccup, but then waited one lap longer to switch to spots. This is true in principle, because a solid frame needs a long warm-up phase. But the bypass did not work. “In those few laps, the track dried up so fast that it was hard to find the right tyre,” Seidl apologized.
Too conservative with tires
In the second part of the race, Mercedes chose the McLaren medium compound on solid tyres. Despite this, Norris was instructed to drive carefully to avoid tire failure at the end of the remaining 35 laps. Much caution would have been announced at Mercedes. The middle frame showed a greater tendency for grain.
But on lap 51, Russell was 6.7 seconds ahead of Norris. A pillow should be important to the Englishman at Mercedes. With the gap between Norris and Alonso increasing to 31.3 seconds, McLaren had the luxury of a free stop. But the driver had to order it first.
On the new medium tires, the seventh in the World Championship not only set the fastest lap in the race, but also closed a 30.9sec gap within 13 laps. Mercedes strategists admitted: “One lap longer and George was due.”
Meanwhile, Norris was at loggerheads with his engineers, who somewhat categorically instructed him to take care of the tires even on the new set of tires. He felt that being overly cautious cost him too much time on Russell. “There are a lot of things we need to discuss as a team after the race.”
Fast in slow corners
Regardless, McLaren was satisfied with the way the car was presented. The upgrade offered in Barcelona also proved its worth on the very opposite circuit to Monte Carlo. Norris drove on par with Ferrari and McLaren in slow turns. Mercedes only saved itself in the fast lanes. “We had the speed of Mercedes here. That’s a positive development,” Seidl praised.
The same is true of Baku and Montreal, two circuits where the majority of corners are in the less than 130 km/h range where traction plays an important role. There, however, the problem of maximum speed must be resolved. Otherwise, Mercedes will be at the front again. Blessed realization: The aerodynamics of the MCL36 operates steadily in various ground clearances and vehicle motions. This was not always the case. And that puts you a little ahead of Mercedes.
Ricciardo struggles with ground-impact cars
McLaren has the largest construction site with the second cockpit occupied. Daniel Ricciardo can’t stand on his own two feet. During the testing phase and in the first two races, chief technology officer James Key found that the Australian was able to handle better the new generation of vehicles. Distances to Norris narrowed. Now Ricciardo has to admit again: “I still don’t feel comfortable in the car. It’s probably a long adjustment process.”
But can McLaren wait that long? Since Miami, the worm is back there. Ground-impact cars have a feature that the downforce in the rear can break quickly if the speed is too low. Norris is doing better than Ricciardo, Leclerc better than Sainz and Alonso than Ocon.
There was a technical explanation for Ricciardo’s poor race at Barcelona, which McLaren does not want to specify as it would blame the part of the team in question. But then the classic mistake happened in Monte Carlo, where Ricciardo won in 2018.
Training crash hurt confidence
Before the race, McLaren boss Zak Brown reminded the 32-year-old from Perth that after a year and a half of working together, they finally wanted to see the performance for which McLaren bought the seven-time GP winner. . Americans grumbled that cooperation has not yet met expectations.
The wake-up call has proven counterproductive. In the second practice session, Ricciardo disassembled his McLaren in the pool, which put a strain on the production account and indirectly on the development budget. His trademark, laughter, froze him long ago.
After the violent departure, Ricciardo did not regain confidence in himself and his car. “I wanted to get back into the flow, but I made mistakes here and there and I felt sorry,” McLaren’s baby problem.
Not even a chaotic race leads the man from 14th on the grid decisively forward. He was walled in on the set behind Bottas, Vettel and Gasly. Perhaps McLaren Ricciardo should have worn a middleman early on, like Gasly and Vettel. But I didn’t have the courage to do that. Team boss Seidl is slowly running out of arguments for the driver, who should one day become the team leader.