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McLaren: Catalyst for shock F1 turnaround was French GP 2022 disappointment

McLaren’s Zak Brown has revealed the trigger point for his Formula 1 team’s impressive turnaround last year was disappointing upgrades at the 2022 French Grand Prix.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The Woking-based squad was one of the surprises of 2023, as a mid-season revamp of its MCL-60 helped catapult Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri near the front of the field as they regularly battled for podium finishes. 

The leap came off the back of a management overhaul from the previous winter, with Andrea Stella taking charge as team principal following the departure of Andreas Seidl to Sauber

But Brown, who helped oversee the changes at the top of McLaren, says the roots of the successful turnaround can be traced back to the previous season – and especially mid-season car improvements at Paul Ricard not delivering. 

“For me, the big moment was the French Grand Prix [in 2022] when we were late with our upgrades and they were ineffective,” said Brown in an exclusive interview with Autosport.

The reaction from the leadership was not the reaction I would have expected. That was also at the same time when you start to develop [the following season's] car.  

So that was the big moment for me, and obviously we made the changes at the end of the year.  

I asked Andrea Stella to take a look at what is going on and he rang the bell saying: ‘let’s change this, change some people, hire some people,’ and that is when the development started ultimately.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

McLaren’s changes at the 2022 French GP included a tweaked sidepod shape, revised floor design and alterations to the rear wing endplate and brake ducts. 

And while they did bring gains, Norris said at the time the improvements were: “not as much as what I would dream of. But I don't think we expected a lot of it.” 

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Having been aware of the need for wider change, but knowing the time lag in seeing results pay off on track, Brown says that McLaren had headed into 2023 with a degree of optimism – even if it knew that it’s launch spec car was not as good as it wanted. 

We were confident but until you put it on the car and it works [you never know],” he explained. “I think what is good is we knew that we weren’t going to be strong immediately so I think it would’ve been a worse situation if we thought we were going to be strong and we weren’t, and we’d be scratching our heads. 

So what that told me was that we knew where we were. We just weren’t where we wanted to be, as opposed to putting stuff on the car and saying: 'This is going to be good', and then it is not. So, at least, our data has been accurate.

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