James Key could ‘write a book’ on McLaren MCL36 tyre struggles

Jamie Woodhouse
McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo in action at the United States Grand Prix. Austin, October 2022.

McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo in action at the United States Grand Prix. Austin, October 2022.

McLaren technical director James Key said the MCL36’s dislike for the 18-inch Pirelli tyres could be the subject of a book.

McLaren were unable to make progress in 2022 as new Technical Regulations came into force, the team actually slipping a position from the year before to P5 in the final Constructors’ standings, with Lando Norris scoring their only podium of the season.

And while McLaren’s level of performance dropped, the same was true for Daniel Ricciardo, who after a further difficult campaign saw his McLaren deal terminated a year early, Oscar Piastri getting the nod for 2023.

As for picking out the reasons, Key highlighted the new Pirelli tyres as one of the major ones.

“I could write a book about that, to be honest,” he said, as per Motorsport-Total.com. “We’ve had a lot of internal discussion about it.

“They are not strange characteristics because we can see what is happening. There’s a big influence of tyres, and everyone has the same problem.

“It really depends on how well you mitigate the problem. We’ve had long discussions about whether there’s a certain part of our process or a tool that we use that maybe makes us a little more susceptible to this kind of behaviour that we see with these things.

“But there are other factors that weren’t there last year, so it’s not that we’re stuck in a rut with this particular problem.

“We just seem to be a little more vulnerable to the fact that the remedies are not as strong as they could be. And that’s what we’ve been discussing. So I think mechanically we’ve done everything we can.”

New McLaren principal Andrea Stella shed some light on exactly what it is about the 18-inch tyres that were not clicking with the MCL36.

He also confirmed the common belief that Ricciardo struggled more than Norris to find the narrow operating window.

“Since they were introduced, with the stiff front tyres, they have made the car behave relatively sharply when the car is going straight,” said Stella.

“But the more you transfer the steering angle to the front tyres, the more they degrade, and after a certain point they degrade quite quickly.

“I think even if you see the Pirelli reports that talk about balance for everybody, they usually resemble the balance that our drivers comment on.

“Then on top of the tyres, there are the characteristics of the car that mitigate the basic behaviour of the tyres. And depending on how strong these mitigating elements of the car are, the more you can exploit the available grip.

“I think there are definitely some aspects to our car that don’t mitigate well the fundamental behaviour of the tyres, but I think ultimately it’s the same for everyone.

“We have seen over the past few years that the window in which Daniel feels comfortable is slightly smaller than Lando’s, so these characteristics that I described before have an impact on his performance.

“When these characteristics are pronounced, for whatever reason, I think it affects his performance. And we’ve seen Lando deal with it a bit better.”

Very little about the Formula 1 challengers remained the same between 2021 and 2022, but this flagged up different issues in the MCL36, a car designed to be more than just a high-speed circuit specialist.

And while Key did not necessarily brand them as McLaren issues, rather ones covering the grid, McLaren were seemingly a team that struggled to adapt and overcome.

“The problem we had last year is much improved on this car,” Key stated.

“But there are other problems with these cars that are unique to these cars, and it seems that again that has had a bit of a negative effect on us.

“But I wouldn’t say it’s anything special. It’s just something that every car struggles with. Sometimes it works pretty well for us and it’s not a problem at all. Sometimes it’s a bit more noticeable and it becomes the centre of our attention on a weekend.”

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