With Lando Norris declaring after the Spanish GP that the “expectation is almost to not finish in the points”, McLaren team boss Andrea Stella has explained the MCL60’s loss of pace from qualifying to the race.
Norris put in an exceptional lap in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, faster than Alpine, Mercedes and Aston Martin, while his team-mate Oscar Piastri also broke into the top 10 where he qualified in 10th place.
But when all was said and done on Sunday, both drivers had lost positions with Piastri P13 and Norris, who had an incident with Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap that left him with a broken front wing, 17th. The team-mates were lapped by the race-winning Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Norris says McLaren expected a point-less Sunday.
“We’re not expecting anything more than what we’re doing now,” he said in Barcelona. “We’re doing our best to try and get in the points and if we do, it’s been an amazing day for us.
“But the expectation is almost to not finish in the points at the minute. That’s just how it is.”
Stella says that is because the MCL60 is suffering a drop-off from qualifying to the grand prix.
According to the team boss, who took up the reins in January, the MCL60 loves grip and needs it so as soon as that’s lost, either through a hot track or harder tyres, the team has “mid-corner” problems.
While those can be somewhat negated by running the soft tyres, as the drivers do in qualifying, it can return in the grands prix.
“The fact we had a positive result [in qualifying] confirmed what we knew already,” Stella said as per The Race.
“There is a pocket of conditions in which the car operates very well and these conditions include cold track, cold ambient, high-speed corners and a lot of grip from the tyres.
“When you have the grip on the tyres, you mask balance problems and this meant Lando and Oscar could drive the car competitively.
“In a way, this is almost the counterpart of what we had in Miami where it was hot, the tyres and the tarmac weren’t very grippy, we had balance issues, not many high-speed corners at all.
“So I think we got confirmation of what we know rather than new insights.
“One thing in the race that you don’t have, which you have in qualifying, is this super extra grip from a new soft tyre, which masks the mid-corner issues that we have at the moment.
“The mid-corner on a new soft in Barcelona becomes very narrow, but when the tyres are used then the corner becomes much, much longer than on the new tyre and with low fuel. So it really changes the characteristics.”
Accepting that McLaren need to take a “step forward” and that in order to do that they have to get the tyres working better, Stella added: “We don’t only have to look at the aerodynamic behaviour of the car, and we know we need to take a step forward, we clearly need to get our tyres to work in a better range during the race.
“This was quite clear already but this weekend we took the two extremes of being competitive in qualifying with no issues in warm-up and today a lack of pace when other people, like Mercedes, had very good degradation. That’s the main takeaway.”
With main rival Alpine securing three double points-hauls in succession, McLaren just one, the Woking team has fallen 23 points off the pace in the fight for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship.