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McLaren wary of “unpleasant surprise” from Red Bull in F1 2024

McLaren is mindful of the potential for Red Bull to unleash an “unpleasant surprise” in Formula 1 this year by making a big step forward with its 2024 car.

Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

While Red Bull itself has played down talk of a repeat of it being as clear in front of the opposition as it was last year – when it won all but one grand prix – its rivals are not taking anything for granted. 

And McLaren, which ended the year as Red Bull’s most consistent challenger, is especially wary about the situation because it knows the world champion squad turned off development of its 2023 car early. 

It means that Red Bull has potentially been able to concentrate on some big gains for its 2024 car that have not been seen in public. 

Speaking at McLaren’s 2024 livery launch, McLaren CEO Zak Brown said his squad hoped to chase down Red Bull this year – but had to be realistic about things. 

“Clearly we want to continue to close the gap,” he said. “We finished up last year as the second or third quickest team, depending on what circuit you were at.  

“Car development has been strong, but Red Bull certainly seems like they didn’t develop last year to the level they could if they wanted to. So that could be an unpleasant surprise for all of us.” 

Lando Norris, McLaren livery

Photo by: McLaren

Lando Norris, McLaren livery

McLaren is bullish about the encouraging numbers it is getting from its simulation facilities – both wind tunnel and CFD – regarding the step forward that it has made with its 2024 MCL38 car. 

However, team boss Andrea Stella has echoed Brown’s caution over that elevation in performance manifesting itself in better results on track – especially because he knows Red Bull will not have stood still over the winter. 

“When it comes to competitiveness on track, this depends on what the opposition has done,” he said. 

“When we think specifically about Red Bull, there's one element that obviously I think puts everyone in doubt as to what's going to happen in 2024. It's the fact that they haven't developed their car very much [towards the end of last year]. 

“So, the question is, have they cashed in, and accumulated development that they will capitalise on to next year's car? This is my theory.  

“I can't think that Red Bull were not in condition to develop their car, so they might have decided not to deliver upgrades. Certainly, this may mean that their gradient [of improvement] kept going.”

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He added: “I would say Red Bull should be extremely competitive and we will see where we are, and we will see what kind of challenge we will be able to set on track. 

“But, for me, for us, it's important that we see we are doing a good job out of our own performance development. We are confident that, if we keep doing this, over time, we have an opportunity to close the gap. So that's our vision for the future.”

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