Andrea Stella paints bleak picture for McLaren: ‘Not in range of top four’

Thomas Maher
McLaren's Lando Norris on track at Bahrain testing. Sakhir, February 2023.

McLaren's Lando Norris on track at Bahrain testing. Sakhir, February 2023.

McLaren’s Andrea Stella has admitted that their MCL60 is unlikely to trouble the leaders at the start of the 2023 F1 season.

McLaren won’t start the season in a position to be able to trouble the top four cars, according to team boss Andrea Stella’s predictions.

Following the second day of testing in Bahrain, in which Lando Norris finished second-from-bottom on the timesheets after setting a 1:35.522 on the C2 tyre, Stella addressed the media where he spoke frankly about the expected performance levels of the MCL60.

“Based on what I’ve seen in these two days, our performance is pretty much where I expected it to be – no surprises, the data correlates with what we were expecting from an aerodynamic point of view,” Stella told media, including PlanetF1.com, when asked about his thoughts ahead of the final day of pre-season testing.

“Even performance-wise for whatever is possible to assess, based on lap times in tests where we know that lap times can depend on fuel level, engine modes, conditions – I’m not sure how much is noticeable but the track keeps changing in terms of where it is.

“From a laptime point of view, like the last hour and a half today, the track became quite quick, so very difficult to assess. So far, for us, I would say no surprises, we know we have work to do. But if we think about the season, it’s long, there can be variations in the competitive order. We know there’s a good development rate and that’s where we are focusing.

“So I think the start will have to be realistic. But, in terms of looking ahead to the season, we remain optimistic.”

Andrea Stella: Our objective is to be a top four car

Having slipped to fifth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2022 after being beaten by Alpine in the closing stages of the season, Stella said maximising the performance of the car may be enough to keep the MCL60 in the top 10 and making Q3 appearances.

“The midfield is very compact,” he said.

“This means that, if you don’t do a good enough job even in setting up and maximising what you have, you may struggle to get out of Q1. At the same time, you might be a Q3 contender. So I think the fork is relatively open, it is relatively wide. When I’m talking about competitiveness, at the moment, I would say our objective through the season is to be a top four car. At the moment, I would say we are not necessarily in this range.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

George Russell admits chances of a Mercedes win at Bahrain ‘a bit of a stretch’
James Vowles highlights number one priority for Williams after Mercedes switch
Ferrari downplay bouncing, reportedly ran ‘experimental’ settings ‘on ride height and mechanics’

Understandably, Stella was reluctant to go into detail about the exact shortcomings of the car, and said extensive upgrades to the car will be made over the opening quarter of the season.

“In F1, the material you have right now at trackside is material that you had two to three months ago in development. So the good news is that we have good development streams going on, so they will land trackside in some weeks,” he said.

“Obviously, when you know that you have good development ongoing, you kind of realise ‘maybe our competitors already have it’. So it’s a reference to yourself, this game is very competitive. If you slow down in terms of the development rate, you can’t assume it happens the same to others. So that’s maybe why I’m not necessarily the most optimistic now but rather more optimistic for what’s coming in the season.”

McLaren make improvements with MCL60, but fall short of key target

Stella also revealed that McLaren haven’t actually fallen short of achieving many of their targets in improving their 2023 car, but that a key shortcoming is having a large effect on their overall performance.

“Last year, we had some clear objectives in terms of development – they had to do with aerodynamic efficiency, some development related to the exploitation of the tyres and tyre usage, and also some other objectives to improve the balance,” he said.

“The reality is that most of these objectives have actually been met. But the objective, in terms of aerodynamic efficiency of the car, that’s the one where we are still shy of what was our target. So some of the objectives have been met but aerodynamic efficiency is still not where we would like it to be, or where we would like it to be a top four contender. So I would say that’s the one in which we are still short.”

While the upcoming upgrades will be extensive, Stella said they won’t be revolutionary to the point of being considered a ‘B-Spec’.

“We are under definition of the package itself but there are a couple of components where we see that there’s quite a bit of lap time sensitivity, let’s say – I can’t say what,” he said.

“So it won’t look like a completely different car, necessarily, but some of the changes seem to make a significant difference for aerodynamic efficiency.”

As for why the issue has happened, the changes to the technical regulations in the FIA’s bid to stamp out porpoising by means of floor design changes aren’t to blame.

“It’s not an effect of the changes of regulation,” he confirmed. “And we didn’t take a step backwards. We just didn’t develop fast enough.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher