How a change of mindset helped McLaren design an F1 winner

It's almost impossible to believe that just four years ago McLaren was a team battling to avoid getting Formula 1's wooden spoon as the worst on the grid.

How a change of mindset helped McLaren design an F1 winner

Ongoing difficulties with engine supplier Honda in 2017 left it facing performance and reliability troubles, and it ended the campaign ninth in the standings for the second time in three years.

Its transformation since then has been remarkable, and its shock 1-2 at this year's Italian Grand Prix has helped it already deliver more points this season than any campaign in the turbo hybrid era.

But while much of the credit for the resurrection of McLaren as a competitive force has been put on the shoulders of chiefs Zak Brown and Andreas Seidl, the reality is that the final responsibility for results falls on its technical department.

For without the drivers having a competitive enough car, there would be nothing they could do to bring home the kind of results that are a current norm.

The onus for the car steps that McLaren has taken in recent years falls on technical director James Key, who arrived at the outfit in 2019.

Since then, he has worked hand-in-hand with team boss Seidl, racing director Andrea Stella and operations director Piers Thynne to transform the Woking-based squad.

Perhaps most interestingly is that key to the progress unleashed since then is that it was not simply a case of hiring better staff to design faster car parts.

Instead, as Key has revealed, the biggest change made in terms of car progress has come from a shift of mindset triggered by a reset that Seidl unleashed.

Reflecting on the elements that he believed had helped McLaren produce a winning car, Key explained: "The team were absolutely open to change. It was things like integrating our groups more.

"Looking at the car as a whole, rather than individual functions, was something that I spotted was different to what I was used to. I felt it was probably not helping anyone really in understanding their wider role in designing a car.

"So it was opening up the process a bit more, such that we had one project rather than multiple projects and trying to converge into one.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

"Also it was being very open with stuff, and the blame cultures, etc. It was not that they were necessarily an issue when we arrived, but definitely we did not want to have them at all. So people were free to talk and attack issues in a very mature and open way.

"Plus it was target setting, which was definitely missing. We needed to have a blueprint for what we're trying to achieve.

"And whilst there were the sort of individual targets in certain areas, bringing that together, again, in a whole car sense, was necessary.

"So I think from a cultural perspective, there was definitely some work to do there just to try and reset the way we want to work."

The deep dig back then in to McLaren's competitive situation prompted the conclusion that the team needed a new windtunnel and simulator – facilities which are now under construction.

And there was no fear in being willing to check out the opposition, to understand and accept areas where rivals were doing things better.

Key added: "The process itself really, I suppose, was kind of stepping back and looking at what the weaknesses of the car were, and where we needed to improve.

"So we did a lot of competitor analysis. We tried to understand exactly what we were good at, what we weren't so good at, and why is that the case? Is it methodology? Is it the equipment we've got? Is it our knowledge?

"These were all really fundamental questions. And then we kind of built it up from there and gave ourselves a very clear objective."

Key is clear that there was no sudden eureka moment that produced a dramatic step forward with the car. Instead it was the classic marginal gains that prove so effective in modern F1.

"It was step-by-step, trying to address these weaknesses, hang on to our strengths, and build a much more complete package. That's been a process.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, 2nd position, takes victory as his team cheers from the pit wall

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, 2nd position, takes victory as his team cheers from the pit wall

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

"It's gone from 2019, which had already started before we got there with the 2019 car, and developing that in a way which was conducive to a new step and 2020.

"Obviously then we had homologation and COVID and other things which kind of interrupted the process a bit, and then to a certain extent the same thing again in 2021. So it was a fairly all encompassing approach.

"I think there wasn't one thing that you go and you think: right yes, the gearbox needs to look different or something. It was more a sort of a big picture car approach that everyone needed to kind of grasp and then work together to solve.

"That's still a work in progress. But it's definitely working quite well now."

But, despite the huge steps forward made since those dark days a few years ago, there is no sense the team's journey has finished.

Read Also:

For Seidl, winning again is a great feeling, but there still remains that gap to Mercedes and Red Bull that needs closing down.

"When you see the average lap time deficit for example that we are still having throughout the year compared to Red Bull/ Mercedes, we have a realistic picture of where we are right now," he explained.

"We know that we still have a good way to go, but at the same time we are obviously ambitious. We want to shortcut this journey.

"We know that there are some things we can't shortcut, like getting the windtunnel in place, which will be key on our journey as well. But I'm very happy with what I'm seeing in terms of the development of the team.

"I'm very happy with how James, Andreas and Piers are leading the departments on the technical side, but also in terms of the human leadership. That's for me key in order to make the final steps as well in the next years."

shares
comments
Haas: Q2 spot shows team "ready to get points" with a better car
Previous article

Haas: Q2 spot shows team "ready to get points" with a better car

Next article

Qatar circuit pitlane entry changed "dramatically" for F1 race

Qatar circuit pitlane entry changed "dramatically" for F1 race
How the FIA should punish any breaches of the F1 cost cap Plus

How the FIA should punish any breaches of the F1 cost cap

OPINION: On Wednesday, the FIA will issue F1 teams with compliance certificates if they stuck to the 2021 budget cap. But amid rumours of overspending, the governing body must set a critical precedent. It needs to carefully pick between revisiting the bitterness of Abu Dhabi, a contradictory punishment and ensuring parity for the rest of the ground-effect era

Singapore Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022 Plus

Singapore Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

A testing return to the Singapore Grand Prix in tricky conditions created plenty of hazards and mistakes for the Formula 1 drivers to fall into. That partly explains a number of low scores, including from a handful of high profile runners, allowing others to take a starring role under the floodlights

Formula 1
Oct 3, 2022
The two key contributors to Leclerc's defeat to Perez in F1's 2022 Singapore GP Plus

The two key contributors to Leclerc's defeat to Perez in F1's 2022 Singapore GP

In a marathon Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, Sergio Perez’s victory was only assured hours after the race due to a stewards investigation. Throughout the contest the Red Bull driver impressively held off Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in changing conditions to see the Mexican pull out enough of an advantage to negate his post-race penalty

Formula 1
Oct 3, 2022
The time-honoured manufacturer model that can't apply to all F1 teams Plus

The time-honoured manufacturer model that can't apply to all F1 teams

What happens, asks MATT KEW, if the old adage of win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday is no longer true for F1 manufacturers?

Formula 1
Oct 2, 2022
Why is Oscar Piastri F1's most sought-after rookie? Plus

Why is Oscar Piastri F1's most sought-after rookie?

The Australian rising star is fast, consistent, confident, adaptable and has shown excellent racecraft, but there’s already a taint to his reputation. That hasn’t stopped him becoming the hottest property in this year’s F1 driver market and why McLaren moved fast to snap up the 21-year-old

Formula 1
Sep 30, 2022
The unintended benefit that F1's new engine rules era will deliver Plus

The unintended benefit that F1's new engine rules era will deliver

Formula 1's incoming engine rules shake-up has multiple targets. But it may also solve what has been a bone of contention since the hybrids arrived in 2014. The new plan will allow the series to pump up the volume

Formula 1
Sep 29, 2022
How de Vries made himself impossible to ignore for a belated F1 chance Plus

How de Vries made himself impossible to ignore for a belated F1 chance

Nyck de Vries appeared to have missed his opportunity to break into Formula 1 as he was passed over for more exciting talents who have now become frontrunners and title fighters. But after catching the eye outside of the F1 sphere, before his stunning impromptu grand prix debut in Italy, will it lead to a delayed full-time race seat?

Formula 1
Sep 29, 2022
Can Hamilton produce another Singapore magic moment? Plus

Can Hamilton produce another Singapore magic moment?

The Singapore Grand Prix has, explains BEN EDWARDS, played an important role in Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 career. As the series returns to the Marina Bay Street Circuit for the first time in three years, he faces the latest challenge with an underperforming Mercedes car

Formula 1
Sep 28, 2022