Among only a few teams still developing their 2021 car, James Key firmly believes McLaren’s decision to chase P3 will not hurt their 2022 competitiveness.
Next season, Formula 1 is introducing all-new cars, the sport adopting ground-effect aerodynamics in a bid to improve the ability to follow and ultimately pass.
Most of the teams are already 100% focused on 2022 having stopped updating their current cars, most being those without something to fight for this season.
That is not where McLaren are at though, the Woking team locked in a tense battle with Ferrari for third position in the Constructors’ Championship – and the millions of dollars that come with it.
Like Red Bull and Mercedes, who are fighting for the world title and still bringing minor updates to the track, so too are McLaren.
“There are different ways to interpret the transition,” Key, McLaren’s technical director, explained to Auto Motor und Sport. “The timing of updates on the track says nothing about how long the car has actually been developed.
“We only recently introduced upgrades, but these were passed by aerodynamicists and designers a long time ago. We got them through the system while we were busy with next year’s car.
“It was difficult to predict where the teams would be this year because there were tough cuts in aerodynamics. We are talking about a loss of a second per lap.
“There was a great risk that you would fall behind if you didn’t react to it directly. In such a situation you don’t just give away a season – even if there is such an enormous task waiting afterwards. We wanted to make sure.
“That requires extensive planning in advance. Many of the projects that made it to the car in the first half of the season were planned before Christmas. That’s a pretty big time lag. I suspect we probably devoted a little more time to this year’s car to get our projects through than perhaps some other teams.”
One could say McLaren have done just that, taking the chequered flag at the Italian Grand Prix as Daniel Ricciardo led home Lando Norris in a 1-2 finish.
“This one is for the team, our fans and partners. I’m sure there’s more to come!” 🏆
Team Principal Andreas Seidl reflects on victory at the #ItalianGP and what it means to McLaren.👇
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) September 21, 2021
Key, though, is convinced it will not hurt the team’s 2022 prospects.
“What’s the right balance between two seasons?” he said. “What makes this season less important than another? I don’t think it’s affecting us particularly for 2022 right now. We have been concentrating on the coming car for a long time.
He added: “It was very difficult to find the right balance. The 2022 car is created on a blank sheet of paper. Of course, you take with you the knowledge of how to design a car. Knowing what you mean makes a car fast. But when it comes to the car’s mechanical layout, the aerodynamic tools, 2022 will be completely different from what we are used to.
“If you were in the luxurious position of being able to write off this season and invest 100% in the next year and the future, that would of course be great.
“But if you sit at the pit wall and are thrown out in the first race in Q1, that would be hard to swallow. Then you might think we should have invested more time in this car.
“At the end of the day, we are all racers. We have tried to strike the balance so we are racing at a reasonable level this season but not giving too much away in 2022. Added to this are the restrictions on aerodynamics with less time in the wind tunnel and less CFD. And the budget cap in general.
“You need to properly weight the resources and budgets between projects. We won’t find out what the right path looks like until 2022. Each team has to follow the approach it sees fit.”