Why McLaren is no longer a midfield team
McLaren's success lately hasn't just improved the spectacle of Formula 1 - it has actually promoted them from the midfield... here's why.
Glamorous history, steep decline & gradual return
Mercedes are often heralded as the dominant - if not slightly monotonous - Formula 1 team, winning the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships year after year; but there was a similar time for McLaren, hidden deep within the chapters of their history books.
With drivers like Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell and Miki Hakkinen, McLaren utterly monopolized the Formula 1 grid throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Upon making the switch to Honda power units in 2015 though, the holy McLaren name was sullied by poor reliability and perpetual inconsistency.
Hope was restored in 2017 however, as the British team instituted the drastic kind of turnaround they had been previously lacking, by announcing a partnership with Renault extending from 2018 to 2020. At the end of their debut season with the French power units, McLaren were 6th in the Constructors’ Championship with 62 points, then 4th in 2019 with 145 points and 3rd last season with a healthy 202 points.
Now, in 2021, McLaren have entered the season with heavy ammunition, using Mercedes power units in the papaya cars. It has been immediately evident that opting for Championship-winning power and reliability was another step in the right direction for McLaren, who sit 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship once again after just two Grands Prix.
It is indeed a relief to see this beloved team writing their own comeback story, but it is crucial that complacency does not spread within; given the very real possibility of returning to Championship-winning ways in just a few seasons, McLaren need to capitalize on their performances now to build consistency for the future.
While the majority of F1 fans are delighted to see McLaren fighting at the front once again, there are some who remain slightly skeptical. To play devil’s advocate, one could argue that, if McLaren was in such a close fight with Racing Point and Renault last year, are they really stretching ahead of the midfield?
While this is a valid inquiry, it doesn’t actually prove anything. Instead of showing that McLaren are still in the thick of the midfield fight, it just proves how competitive the respective Racing Point and Renault cars were last season. Even now, in a new season, McLaren are just as competitive as they were last year, while the two formerly mentioned teams have been knocked down the totem pole.
In essence, 2020 was a season in which Racing Point and Renault were quicker than usual, which in turn created a false illusion of a hampered McLaren. Now though, as they sit comfortably in P3, this counterargument can be exposed as baseless and inaccurate.
Orange is the new navy
Another indicator of McLaren’s security outside the midfield is the fact that they seem to have found a sweet spot as the third quickest team. As Lando Norris becomes even more comfortable with his MCL35M, he often finds himself in the top three positions after a practice or qualifying session, and sometimes even as he crosses the finish line on a Sunday afternoon.
It seems like this trend will continue throughout the 2021 season, as McLaren stake their claim on P3 as their frequented territory. In a sense, McLaren have inherited the role that Red Bull used to fulfill on the grid, as the consistently 3rd-placed team with 3rd-placed drivers.
These are encouraging signs, because after Red Bull spent a number of seasons as the third quickest constructor, they began to challenge more for second and first place results - and now they find themselves challenging for the World Championship. If McLaren stay consistent, there is a high chance of them following Red Bull’s path and eventually climbing to the top.
Daniel Ricciardo's rationale & 2022 investment
Newly christened McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo’s presence in the team alone could serve as all the evidence needed to conclude this argument. The Aussie driver is not a man who enjoys squandering his own time, and is in fact one of the most introspective drivers on the current grid. Anyone who even slightly knows the Honey Badger can attest that he has a wise head on his shoulders.
During an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald back in February, Ricciardo opened up on the matter, saying, “I didn’t ever get to F1 only to get to F1 - I wanted to be the World Champion, and I still do. McLaren, with the way they’re progressing, feels like the best chance for me to be able to do that, maybe the best chance I’ve had.”
Being the wise individual that he is, his bold claim that McLaren are providing him with the best chance to win a World Championship likely has some substance to it.
Additionally, it is clear that McLaren CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl are pushing with all their might for improvements in 2021, such as their new rear diffuser, before revitalizing their budget and directing their resources to the 2022 season.
Based on the team’s current progress and success with the developments they already have, 2022 might just become one of the most riveting seasons for McLaren since their glory days.
McLaren on the rise once again
Upon first glance, the success and recovery that has been granted to McLaren since last season could look like a fluke, but after delving into how they achieved this success, it becomes obvious that they worked for their results and are in this position based on pure merit - something that Formula 1 has been missing for years. Finally, McLaren is back.