Strong McLaren recovery but an underwhelming season leaves work to do

Jamie Woodhouse
Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2022.

McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris during the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2022.

Although McLaren finished the 2022 campaign much stronger than how they started it, overall progress from last season was lacking. 

Formula 1’s overhauled regulations presented a real opportunity for several teams going into 2022 to grab that brass ring and climb up the pecking order, McLaren one of those seemingly in prime position.

2021 had seen them battle with Ferrari over the ‘best-of-the-rest’ P3 spot in the Constructors’ Championship, but it was Ferrari who took that step in 2022 to join the fight at the front, McLaren initially tumbling down the order with a torrid season-opener in Bahrain.

The impact of brake cooling issues in the pre-season test at the Bahrain International Circuit had continued into the opening race, Daniel Ricciardo out in Q1 and Lando Norris Q2 as neither driver came close to points on the Sunday.

Their fix really was quick though as Norris returned to points-scoring ways in Saudi Arabia, his first and only podium of the season coming two rounds later at Imola after a P3 finish.

McLaren can take pride from the fact that they were the only team outside of the top three, formed by Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, to get a look in on the podium celebrations, but they ideally would have been hopeful of more than just the one visit.

The team has been consistent in saying that 2024 will be the season where it must happen, at that stage their infrastructure upgrades will be complete and the excuses will have run out, but to have stagnated between 2021 and 2022 is not a particularly promising sign.

This time it was Alpine stepping up to the plate to battle McLaren for ‘best of the rest’, McLaren once more coming up short in that contest with 2022 in fact proving to be a step back for the team.

They dropped to P5 in the final standings compared to P4 in 2021, scored 159 points against 275 a year ago, and registered just the one podium as opposed to five in 2021, which included the one-two finish at Monza.

For McLaren the continued and arguably worsening struggles of Ricciardo did play a major role in their inability to see off the threat of Alpine, the Aussie providing only 37 of their 159 points.

It was no surprise then to see the Woking outfit cut their losses, the announcement coming that Ricciardo would leave the team at the end of 2022, a year before his contract expired, as he now returns to Red Bull as a reserve driver with both he and McLaren looking ahead to fresh starts.

The whole saga regarding his replacement Oscar Piastri was also likely an unwelcome headache for McLaren, since it pitted them against Alpine in the Formula 1 courtroom as well as on the track.

After Piastri snubbed Alpine’s offer of a 2023 race seat, it became apparent that McLaren was the team which he had struck a deal with, that case going to F1’s Contract Recognition Board where it was ruled that McLaren had the valid contract with Piastri.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown returned fire at Alpine who did not shy away with going public over their disappointment in Piastri, their team boss Otmar Szafnauer questioning Piastri’s “integrity”, while Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said that Piastri had snubbed a drive with Williams as he thought he was above that.

McLaren can now though put all of this behind them and switch focus to 2023, where a positive step is absolutely needed under new team boss Andrea Stella, who was promoted into the role following Andreas Seidl’s move to Alfa Romeo.

Alpine made clear progress this season and would be a safe bet to start the new campaign closer to the top three, gains which McLaren must match or better.

As bigger reason as any why this improvement is needed is Norris. Red Bull have taken an interest in the Brit previously who remains committed to McLaren, under contract until the end of 2025, and confident in the team. But, he is very much intent on racing for wins and titles in the not too distant future.

2022 was not a strong enough trajectory to convince that this is where McLaren are heading, so their must be a marked improvement in 2023.

Read next – Lando Norris v Daniel Ricciardo: One can still make good excuses for the team, the other ran out