What McLaren need to prove to be ‘genuine threat’ to Red Bull after Miami win

Thomas Maher
Lando Norris, McLaren, 2024 Miami Grand Prix.

The full extent of McLaren's competitiveness in F1 2024 is yet to come into focus.

The real test of just how close McLaren really are to Red Bull will be revealed over the next handful of races.

McLaren scored its first victory since the 2021 Italian Grand Prix at last weekend’s Miami Grand Prix, with Lando Norris coming out on top in a thrilling race after a Safety Car intervention played into his hands.

Karun Chandhok: McLaren’s update introduction shows huge confidence

With McLaren showing up in Miami with an extensive update package for their car, which was rolled out in full on Norris’ car, former F1 driver turned broadcaster Karun Chandhok believes the team’s willingness to do so at a Sprint weekend shows a lot of confidence.

With only one hour of setup time before parc ferme conditions at the start of the Sprint Qualifying session on Friday evening, McLaren nevertheless rolled out the updates and both Norris and Piastri (running some of the upgrade package) proved instantly fast.

While the Sprint fell apart for McLaren, as Norris was eliminated at Turn 1 as an innocent victim of other cars colliding, the British driver bounced back in the race to capitalise on a Safety Car to inherit the lead after his pit stop.

But, to prove the win was meritorious, Norris held off the attack of Max Verstappen at the restart and duly spent the rest of the race pulling away with ease from the Red Bull.

Speaking on the Sky F1 podcast, Chandhok said that Imola will be the first real test to answer whether or not McLaren truly is in the title hunt this year.

“I think they have a car that can compete with Red Bull when the circumstances all line up,” he said.

“Now we have a data set of one, which is not very useful really – Miami is a unique circuit, it’s a street circuit, and the surface is pretty unique, it’s not a normal track.

“We’re now coming up to Imola, which is a more traditional circuit and very different in terms of the fact that it’s traditional asphalt on the ground.

“But, actually, you got lots of high-speed changes of direction, you’ve got a bit of elevation change as well so you got to have good stability, and compliance over the kerbs and chicanes as well. So it’s a very different type of circuit.

“But I think they’re in it, they’re absolutely in it – the update that they brought to Miami, the fact that you would make a decision to bring a big upgrade to a sprint weekend and only have one hour to dial the car in shows a huge degree of confidence in the development programme going on back at the factory, because I don’t know of many other teams that would have that confidence, honestly, to make that decision.

“Because we’ve seen with Mercedes, haven’t we, they’ve been bringing updates, but we keep hearing that what they see on track is not what they’re seeing in the wind tunnel.

“So for McLaren to make that call is brilliant. We believe that Oscar will also have the update, we think, in Imola, he was shy of a couple of tenths, wasn’t he?

“But, even without that last little bit of performance, he was still running second in that first stint. He was running a strong second, and it didn’t look like Leclerc or Sainz could really attack him.”

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Of course, the big question mark after Miami is just how off the boil Red Bull really was. With Verstappen suffering a rare defeat, team boss Christian Horner pointed to the belief in the camp that he suffered some floor damage on his RB20 after going off at the chicane and taking out a bollard.

Combined with being put on the back foot by the Safety Car, Verstappen’s afternoon falling apart still met with a comfortable second place, and Chandhok said telling just how badly Verstappen’s RB20 was hurt is something only Red Bull knows.

“They’re the only ones with the data. They haven’t exactly publicised the loss of downforce numbers,” he said.

“The reality is Max – yes, he was leading, yes, he was quick, but he wasn’t as far ahead as he has been in the past.

“Lando was within a couple of tenths of him in qualifying. The Ferraris were within that as well. If you look at the sprint quali, Lando and Oscar were quickest in SQ1 and SQ2 and then had a terrible run on the softs in SQ3, but they were fast. They were genuinely fast all weekend.

“So I’m sure that there’s some element of truth in what Christian was saying, but we don’t know – it could be a second, it could be a hundredth.

“The proof will be in the pudding when we get to the next race. You can’t look at one track, one result, and say ‘Oh, this is it for the season’.

“We’ve got a variety coming up, Imola, Monaco, Canada, Barcelona. They’re four completely different circuits but, if McLaren can be competitive at all those four circuits, then you can say, ‘Okay, this is now a genuine threat for Red Bull’ because, to be a title contender, you have to be quick everywhere.

“You can’t just be quick at one particular track.”

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