James Key on the ’15mms’ and ‘four weeks’ that were the catalyst for McLaren’s troubles

Michelle Foster
McLaren driver Lando Norris handed his steering wheel. Bahrain February 2023

McLaren driver Lando Norris handed his steering wheel. Bahrain February 2023

McLaren were forced into a late change with the direction of the MCL60 after discovering the tweaked-for-2023 floor regulations caused a “bigger loss” of downforce than anticipated.

And that, James Key says, is what’s behind their current troubles.

Formula 1 welcomed all-new cars onto the grid last season with the majority of the field experiencing porpoising, a known consequence of using ground effect aerodynamic to create downforce.

Some teams, such as Mercedes, had it worse than others and with his drivers left in pain after grand prix weekends, Toto Wolff called on the FIA to intervene.

After much debate, and one hell of an argument, it was agreed that the floor edges would be raised by 15mm this season in a bid to minimise bouncing.

That hit McLaren harder than they expected.

“Where this happened actually is when we took the 15mm floor step,” Key explained.

“So we all agreed that as porpoising protection, which was very sensible given at the time last year that was still quite a major issue. It began to improve for everyone as things improved during the year.

“That sounds very small, but these floors are huge and incredibly sensitive. Look at how much downforce it generates, massive.

“So when we did it on our car, it actually gave us a much bigger loss than anticipated. It seems to have affected different teams in different ways.

“And to a certain extent, it seems to be related to the floor edge geometry that you’re running at the time.”

The technical director revealed that for McLaren the decision to change the rules came “four weeks” too late for McLaren.

PlanetF1.com recommends

Karun Chandhok: Lando Norris will be eyeing Red Bull or Ferrari switch
Jolyon Palmer feels ‘a bit sad for Lando Norris with the state that McLaren are in’
The complete driver and teams’ standings after the Bahrain Grand Prix

“If you look last year, there were two camps beginning to develop, one which we were in, and one which probably the majority of teams were in,” he said as per Motorsport.com, “and when we took that [15mm] step, it was a really big knock for us.

“And then trying to recover with what we knew at the time, and this was probably September time, we were thinking this is not working, we’ve actually got to change direction entirely with these geometries.

“Which is a big change, because they’re very big projects, and very complex projects.

“So I think the timing of the reg, and the fact that we took a particularly large hit, and then that it clearly wasn’t going to come back easily, meant that we had to change direction quite late.”

He added: “It is frustrating to be honest. Had the reg been earlier or had we clocked the fact that actually you need to do a different thing with this four weeks earlier, we wouldn’t be talking about it right now, to be honest.

“So it’s a bit of a shame, but we are where we are, and we’re just going to recover from it.”

McLaren failed to see the chequered flag at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Lando Norris retiring with a pneumatic pressure leak two laps from the end having made six pit stops in total while Oscar Piastri was out after just 13 laps with an electronical problem.

Norris is pinning his hopes of a recovery on McLaren’s Baku upgrade, race four of the championship.

“We’re behind where we should be and where we want to be. Like what we want to be having in Baku should be what we started the season with,” he told the media including PlanetF1.com after Sunday’s race.

“If we want to be a top team, this is where we should have started the season with those kind of parts which are coming.”

Key, though, says McLaren weren’t “dawdling” in getting the parts Norris wants, rather it’s a delay that was “forced” on them as they had to adopt a different approach to the MCL60.

“It wasn’t like we were “dawdling around and thinking what to do, and actually why don’t we do this,” he said. “It was sort of forced upon us by a recognition that the new regs weren’t going to recover with what we knew from last year.

“That led to a completely refreshed and revamped approach to that area of the car. It takes a while to develop these things. We tried to get it for race one, it wasn’t mature enough.

“It would have performed a bit better. But with these floors, you’ve got to maintain stability, good correlation and everything else to guarantee that it’s going work, and it was a little bit risky for race one.”