Zak Brown thinks there will be little to choose between McLaren’s two “ferocious” drivers this year as they set about reducing the gap to the rivals ahead.
Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris are getting used to being team-mates, having started spending time in close quarters at this week’s McLaren launch followed by the Silverstone shakedown of the new MCL35M.
With the car being powered by a Mercedes engine, hopes are high at the Woking HQ that McLaren can not only retain third position in the Constructors’ Championship, which they claimed at the end of the 2020 campaign, but also get closer to the top two teams.
The latter target is “priority No 1” for Brown, the McLaren CEO, and he is counting on Norris and new arrival Ricciardo playing a full part in achieving it.
“[They are] great personalities outside of the race car and great to be around,” said the Californian of his driver pairing during an interview with Sky Sports.
“But once they put the helmet on they are pretty ferocious, so I think we’ll have some pretty close racing between our two drivers.
“Hopefully the two of them will push each other forward and we’ll try to tackle some of the teams in front of us.”
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) February 18, 2021
That, of course, means Mercedes and Red Bull, and when asked if he could choose whether to be the third best constructor again or be within a tenth-and-a-half of a second of the top team in every qualifying session, Brown was is in no doubt which option he would pick.
“I’d take the tenth-and-a-half because we’re a lot further off than that,” said the 49-year-old American. “We closed the gap last year and that’s our goal for this year.
“Last year was so close and I expect it to be even closer. We went into the last race and could have been third, fourth or fifth and that really wouldn’t have been a reflection on how we had closed the gap. The gap is still huge but I’ll take closing the gap as priority No 1.”
Despite the work created by the change of engine, Brown also believes McLaren are in their best place going into a season since he became CEO of the team in April 2018.
“We feel very prepared,” he said. “Lots of challenges ahead of us – needing to develop a car during COVID is a first for all of the grand prix teams.
“Then of course we have our power unit change, so we have probably the most significant change, and then couple that with limited testing we certainly have our hands full.
“But I feel like the men and women at McLaren have done an outstanding job. We were first to launch so I think we’re prepared – let’s see how fast it is once we get going.”