An upturn in performances has pushed McLaren into the title conversation and there are plenty of reasons to justify their inclusion.
In 2024, McLaren produced one of the biggest comebacks in F1 history which has set the bar high for the upcoming 2024 campaign.
With factory upgrades and an exciting driver line-up, here are four reasons why McLaren could be the biggest thorn in Red Bull’s side.
Let’s start with one of the most crucial ingredients to an F1 team’s success– the drivers.
Since Silverstone, when both cars had the game-changing upgrades, the McLaren drivers finished on average fifth in the remaining 13 races, excluding any retirements.
That figure shows just how consistently both drivers were able to finish high up in the points but to reduce their season to just numbers would be to do both a disservice.
Each driver produced some moments of excellent driving, from Norris’ defending against Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone or Piastri’s excellent sprint victory in Qatar.
What 2023 showed is of all the teams, McLaren are the ones whose drivers have the most potential and there is no reason to suggest that will not continue into 2024.
Norris, at 24, has become a master of his craft and a win seems a certainty at some point while Piastri produced the finest rookie season since Hamilton in 2007.
Of course, competing at the top end comes with an extra level of pressure and two does not go into one so there is the danger of this so far friendly partnership falling out. It is something for Zak Brown and co. to keep an eye out for.
For the first time since 2009, McLaren’s chassis will be made and tested entirely within the McLaren Technology Centre.
It was back in 2010 when the team recognised their wind tunnel left a lot to be desired and opted to rent Toyota’s in Cologne, bringing them the latest technology but restricting them to a wind tunnel that was several hundred miles away.
In 2023, and after a not insignificant sum spent on it, McLaren’s aerodynamic efforts returned under their Woking-based roof with the new state of the art technology coming online in the second half of the season.
That means the MCL38, or whatever name the team opt for, will be at least partially designed using the new wind tunnel.
But it is the mid-season changes that will be most benefited by the new tech. Before, McLaren would have to ship the part over to Germany which added time to an upgrade’s lifespan but with that now back at base, their production and research time for upgrades should be a lot quicker.
Another new arrival to the MTC is that of Rob Marshall and David Sanchez. While they may not be household names, both have played a role in title-winning operations.
Marshall joins from Red Bull having previously operated as their chief engineering officer and first joined the Milton Keynes outfit in 2006.
Such was his ability that Red Bull boss Christian Horner conceded McLaren had gained an “asset” by hiring Marshall and the 55-year-old is the new technical director of the engineering and design team.
A man joining Marshall in the technical team is former Ferrari engineer Sanchez.
The Frenchman began life in F1 in 2005 at Renault during Fernando Alonso’s winning years before moving to McLaren in 2007, helping to build the McLaren MP4-23 that powered Hamilton to his title win.
He moved to Ferrari in October 2012 and spent a decade in Maranello before returning to McLaren as technical director of car concept and performance.
Their gardening leaves meant they could only join McLaren officially on January 1 so they too will be more of an asset in the middle of the season rather than the start of it.
The final point to mention is a rather crucial one, the car.
In 2023, McLaren produced one of the most remarkable leaps in performance in recent history with the MCL60 going from an also-ran to arguably the second quickest car in the field.
Its strength was medium to high speed corners, which given the nature of the circuits on the calendar, was the way to go with the team reaping the rewards at high speed circuits like Silverstone and Austria.
Of course, having one strength does not make you a world champion and the brilliance of the RB19 was it was a superb car just about everywhere.
The MCL60 has provided an excellent start point for McLaren to work from but they need to make their 2024 car an all-rounder for that is the only way to compete with whatever Red Bull are cooking up.
2024 can be a monumental McLaren year.
If 2020 hinted at change, 2023 delivered it for McLaren. It has been a long time since the Woking outfit was considered in any kind of title talk and yet such was their performance last season that they deserve to be in the conversation.
It is clear Red Bull will start with an advantage but McLaren look one of, if not the best-placed team to take the fight to the Milton Keynes outfit.