McLaren's 2023 F1 car hampered by being too draggy

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The Woking-based squad has been open since its launch that it is not entirely happy with the initial specification of the MCL60, which has lacked competitiveness in the Bahrain pre-season test.

It is unsure just how much difficulty it is going to face in next week’s F1 season opener, but remains optimistic that upgrades planned from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix can help it turn things around.

With CEO Zak Brown having revealed earlier on Friday that the team had missed development targets for the car, team principal Andrea Stella has offered some more insight about what has gone wrong.

And he suggests that its biggest handicap at the moment is in aerodynamic efficiency terms, which means it is producing too much drag for a set downforce level.

“Last year, we had some clear objectives in terms of development, they had to do with aerodynamic efficiency, some development related to the exploitation of the tyres, and also some other objectives to improve the balance,” explained Stella.

“The reality is that most of these objectives have actually been met. But the objective in terms of aerodynamic efficiency of the car, that’s the one where we are still shy of what was our target.

“So some of the objectives have been met. Aerodynamic efficiency is still not where we would like it to be, or where we would like it to be a top-four contender. So I would say that’s the one in which we are still short.”

Stella said that its form in testing had not come as a shock, as it was in line with what its data from the factory was telling it in recent weeks.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

“I think based on what I’ve seen in these two days, our performance is pretty much where I expected it to be,” added Stella. “No surprises.

“The data correlates with what we were expecting from an aerodynamic point of view. Even performance-wise, for whatever is possible to assess based on lap times in tests, where we know that lap times can depend on fuel level engine modes, and conditions.

“We know we have work to do. But if we think about the season, it is long, and there can be variations in the competitive order.

“And, like I said already in the car launch, we know there’s a good development rate. That’s where we are focusing. So I think the start will have to be realistic. But in terms of looking ahead to the season, we remain optimistic.”

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Asked what the realistic expectation was for the Bahrain GP, Stella admitted that being in the midfield pack meant there was as much the risk of a Q1 exit as in getting through to Q3.

“I think we will see again that the midfield is very compact,” he said. “And this means that if you don’t do a good enough job, even in setting up and maximising what you have, you may struggle to get out of Q1. At the same time, you might be a Q3 contender.

“So I think the fork is relatively open, it is relatively wide. I think when I’m talking about competitiveness, I would say our objective through the season is to be a top-four car. At the moment, I would say we are not necessarily in this range.”

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