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Why McLaren takes heart that new tech chiefs don’t want F1 design U-turn

Red Bull’s Formula 1 rivals have all been chasing answers as to what is the design secret that has made its ground effect cars so good.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

There is no silver bullet answer and, instead, much of the brilliance that made the RB18 and RB19 cars so dominant lay in how all its ideas worked together as a complete package. 

Trying to get to the bottom of that would require tapping into the brain power of some of its key architects – and chief technical officer Adrian Newey and technical director Pierre Wache are not the sorts who will willingly give anything like that away. 

FIRST LOOK: McLaren reveals new-look 2024 F1 livery ahead of MCL38 launch

So McLaren’s signing last year of Rob Marshall, Red Bull’s former chief designer, was viewed as a big boost for the squad in helping it get on tap a good understanding of what one of its key opponents was up to. 

The same was true of McLaren also luring Ferrari’s former head of concept David Sanchez who, with Marshall, forms part of the new technical management triumvirate alongside Peter Prodromou that has been up and running since January 1 this year. 

From one perspective, it would be easy to think that McLaren would have loved Marshall and Sanchez to walk in and offer the Woking-based squad a list of things it has done wrong and needs to change on its car to help make a Red Bull beater. 

And if that were the case, the fact that both men see the concept of the new MCL38 as heading in the direction that they think is right, would appear to be a bit of a let down. 

But that's not how McLaren team principal Andrea Stella views things. Instead, he makes clear that acknowledgement that his outfit is on the right track is a massive boost to its bid to make that extra leap it needs to be fighting right at the front. 

Lando Norris, McLaren livery

Photo by: McLaren

Lando Norris, McLaren livery

Speaking recently about the input that Marshall and Sanchez have brought, Stella said: “Definitely what we can see is that they come with quite a lot of knowledge, no surprise.  

“They've been part of great teams, great projects, and the good thing is that this knowledge, I think we see that it integrates with what we knew and with our know-how. 

“So it's not like, ‘Oh we should do things in this way, which is opposite to what you do.’ Instead, it’s ‘we can do things in this way, which adds a little bit to what you do.’ This was quite refreshing in a way.” 

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The dramatic progress that McLaren made in 2023 certainly showed it had understood the elements required to make a rapid ground effect car – and now the key appears to be in utilising extra input from Marshall and Sanchez in directing improvements. 

But it is not just in knowledge brought that Stella sees a positive from Marshall and Sanchez, because he says they have also brought some other important added value. 

“We also had the possibility to appreciate their personal approach, which I think has engaged people in fascinating technical conversations,” added Stella. 

“We see the momentum, the energy, the ideas, the flow through the organisation.” 

And it is that flow that is important not just for McLaren’s 2024 challenger but also the projects that are already being readied for 2025 and 2026. 

Lando Norris, McLaren livery

Photo by: McLaren

Lando Norris, McLaren livery

“We have a 2024 car, and we are already setting the basis for how we evolve the ‘24 into the ‘25,” added Stella. “And then there's a 2026 project with completely new technical regulations.  

“So there's so much work that we need to go through, and it is very important to now have these high calibres leading their respective technical areas.

"This means that we have the capacity, the capability, and the competence to approach these three big projects with the horsepower required to compete at the top of Formula 1.”

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