McLaren issue key update after Toto Wolff’s ‘one-second gain’ suspicions

Oliver Harden
Oscar Piastri, McLaren, enters the pit lane.

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri enters the pit lane at Suzuka.

McLaren have confirmed Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s estimation that they have improved by one second per lap over the F1 2023 season after the team’s double podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix.

McLaren started the season with muted expectations after missing development targets over the winter, with previous technical director James Key losing his role in March.

However, the team have emerged as a leading force following a series of aggressive mid-season upgrades with Lando Norris finishing second at four of the last seven races at Silverstone, Budapest, Singapore and Suzuka.

McLaren reveal how F1 2023 improvement was made possible

McLaren emerged as the greatest threat to Max Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull in Japan, where Oscar Piastri claimed his first podium behind Norris in third.

Wolff claimed after July’s Austrian GP that McLaren had gained a full second on the opposition with team principal Andrea Stella wary of putting a precise number on the improvement.

After the race in Japan, however, Stella admitted the number tallies with what McLaren have seen since the season opener in Bahrain in March.

He told the F1 Nation podcast: “I think numbers in hand, thanks to the developments in Austria and the developments we took to Singapore plus some other minor upgrades, this could be more or less the scale of the improvement throughout the season.

“This improvement depends on the track, obviously, but I think realistically, to be the second-best team [at Suzuka] you needed to be one second quicker than when we were in Bahrain, so pretty much I think the maths is correct.

“The performance is a consequence of having been able to develop the car.

“First of all, we said in the team after Bahrain [that] if we want to start to lean on podiums, we need to improve [by] eight tenths; if we want to start seriously to become a podium contender, we need to improve [by] one second; if we want to win races, we need one-and-a-half seconds.

“We can achieve these only if we outdevelop our competitors and, in the meantime, fix some of the faults that we have and improve our operations trackside.

“So that was the roadmap, if you want. Every team will have this roadmap, so the problem was: how do we make it possible? recommends

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“There’s been just phenomenal work by every single member of the team, and in particular I would like to mention the aerodynamic department led by [technical director] Peter Prodromou.

“They have really found great inspiration as to what the directions to be pursued were and then all united, they went behind this direction. And when you have 100 people rowing in the same direction, then incredible things can happen.

“I think they made it possible and then all teams supported with design, production, logistics and so on.”

Despite the scale of the improvement, Stella rejected the notion that McLaren have the momentum over the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari in the race to hunt down Red Bull.

He added: “I’m not sure it’s about momentum, because it was much more important to generate the impulse or the initial momentum when actually were at the back, so that’s been the real difficult thing to instigate, to put in motion.

“I think, once you put these things in motion, then you generate enthusiasm, you generate so many good feelings in your organisation, but the most important thing is to actually have the technical direction.

“I would like to praise all the people that have made this possible: Neil Houldey [deputy technical director] in addition to Peter Prodromou,  Piers Thynne [chief operating officer],  Gil de Ferran [consultant], Giuseppe Pesce [director of aerodynamics], Mark Ingham [head of design] – there’s so many people that have been so instrumental.”

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