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Why "unusual" McLaren F1 upgrade has piqued Mercedes interest

Mercedes says it will pay more attention than normal to the upgrades McLaren has introduced to its Formula 1 car because of the “unusual” step forward. 

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, the rest of the field at the start

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

McLaren produced a shock performance in last weekend’s British Grand Prix as Lando Norris secured a spot on the front row and then emerged as Max Verstappen’s main threat in the race to come home in second. 

But the way he was able to hold off Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of the race, despite being on slower hard compound tyres, left many rivals impressed about the amount of progress McLaren has made with its car since new parts were added at the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone. 

And having made a significant leap since the start of the season, after McLaren started the year on the backfoot with potentially the slowest car, its opposition are now eager to find answers about how it has achieved it. 

Mercedes technical director James Allison has revealed that his squad is now paying special attention to exactly what McLaren did to its car in a bid to try to understand how the changes delivered such a step. 

Speaking in Mercedes’ regular post-race video debrief, Allison said McLaren’s upgrades would be put under his team’s spotlight far more than it normally does. 

“We keep an eye on all the teams as they upgrade,” explained Allison. “We take lots of photos and we try and figure out what changes from race to race.  

“We note when something new or unusual comes along and the interesting and unusual thing about the McLaren upgrade is that its lap time effect is quite strong. It's unusual to have a step of that size of relative competitiveness in the middle of a season and chapeau to them.  

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, Lando Norris, McLaren

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, Lando Norris, McLaren

Photo by: Erik Junius

“They've done a good piece of work there, but that also makes it interesting for us because we have the before and after shots and we know the lap time effect was big.  

“So, it’s well worth us paying more attention than we normally might to another competitor team's upgrade because in this case, we know that whatever changed has made a meaningful difference to their lap time.  

“It’s quite useful for us to know what that was and see whether it can play into our own thoughts of developing our own car.” 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says that McLaren’s example of in-season progress is encouraging in showing what can be achieved in F1, even though he is mindful that the squad has benefitted from extra wind tunnel time thanks to F1’s aero testing restriction rules. 

“Fair enough they had much more wind tunnel time to come with upgrades that change completely the performance of the car, and we're not speaking about two-tenths up and down, we are speaking about a second, but that's good for the sport,” he said. 

“[It shows] that you do the right things, you put 1+1 together, and we've seen it with Aston Martin from year to year, and we've seen it with the McLaren now during the year. I like it.”

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But while the extra wind tunnel time will have been a help, Wolff does not think that is the only explanation for why McLaren made such a step. 

“I don’t want to say that the reason for performance is in more wind tunnel time,” he added. “I think it's just good engineering, and good decisions put well together on the right track.  

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG

Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images

“We need to see whether they can repeat that performance in Budapest, which is obviously the opposite in what you need.  

“But it is always about marginal gains. If you have 20% more wind tunnel time allocation, and we gain two seconds over a year [in car performance], that means four tenths.  

“So, if you have that four-tenths or five-tenths in additional performances, that's always going to help. But you still need to have the right innovation, design it well, put it on the car, and correlate it with the tunnel and the simulation. So, chapeau.”

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