- Photo credit: McLaren

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.

8w ago

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.

Photo credit: McLaren

Photo credit: McLaren

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.

The counterargument

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?

Photo credit: McLaren

Photo credit: McLaren

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.

Photo credit: McLaren

Photo credit: McLaren

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.

Photo credit: McLaren

Photo credit: McLaren

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.”

"...[This] feels like the best chance for me..."

Daniel Ricciardo

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.

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Comments (12)

  • Solid! I would count them out to stir even the front runners in the sprint races. Their short-stint pace on fresh rubber is nothing short of impressive.

      1 month ago
    • Thank you! Not gonna lie, I felt some pressure making this one. And I won't be surprised if that happens either - I would love for Lando to be on pole after a sprint race.

        1 month ago
    • I'm not a McLaren fan, but they've made a progress that's hard to ignore. Not just in aero development, but they found the way to work with the new tyres, which are arguably harder to switch on from cold. That's what both the Mercs and RedBull...

      Read more
        1 month ago
  • they have always been my favorite team

      1 month ago
  • Andreas Seidl will go down in history for his handling of McLaren and being able to pull them back the from the GP2 engine days to possibly regular podium contenders or even in the fight for wins on merit

      1 month ago
  • Surprise win on the cards this season?

      1 month ago
  • If last year is anything to go by with only two teams fighting at the top there should be plenty of sneaky podiums up for grabs. Especially with Bottas kinda starting to slide into the midfield, and Perez still on shaky footing, if Imola is anything to go by at least, then those opportunities should only increase. Probably even a few chances for a win if Hamilton vs Max gets a bit spicy. McLaren, and perhaps Ferrari seem like the only two teams really able to capitalize. I definitely see some orange on the podium going forward, this year at least they will still probably be condemned to lucky podiums, that is unless Bottas and Perez’s performance in Imola was not a fluke, but being able to capitalize on that luck is the next best thing for sure. As a McLaren fan I’m very excited by the direction of the team, essentially three, probably four here seasons of continental improvement is nothing to scoff at.

      1 month ago
    • Agree completely. Looking forward to the next few races when we will start to see teams settling into their respective places on the grid.

        1 month ago