Andrea Stella and James Key talk about how the F1 2021 season went for McLaren, with regards to the strengths and weaknesses along with other points.

For McLaren, their season overall was very good. All season long they were involved in a battle with Ferrari for third in the constructors’ championship with their driver’s nose to tail from fifth to eighth in the drivers’ championship too. Not just that but the team also got to winning ways with their win at Monza, not just victory but a 1-2 and all.

At certain circuits they performed well, very well in fact. Several performances from the drivers spring to mind – tracks such as Imola, Monaco, Red Bull Ring, Monza are immediately recalled. Also Sochi, where they did everything correctly except achieve a race win but for the late rain and a decision gone wrong.

Overall, for the opening 2/3rds of the season, they had the upper hand on Ferrari but while they continued to score right up to the very end of the season, from Monza onward Ferrari had an upper hand in terms of results hence they took third. All season long, it was a close battle however.

But not forgetting also, they switched engines, returning to Mercedes power for 2021 after several seasons using Renault power. Renault though became very focused on the car front and assisting themselves (Alpine) with a return to the front of the field. As a result, a lot more time and effort was a necessity as the McLaren was initially designed for a Renault engine.

Here’s what Andrea Stella and James Key said to media including

Summing up 2021 –

Andrea Stella: “For us, the season has been a positive one. The main objective of the season was to confirm the upwards trajectory of the team overall. Not only the technical aspect and I think from both the technical aspect and the team overall, we can confirm that this upward trajectory is there. It’s obvious that once you’ve been there for so long, P3 in the championship, you kind of generate the appetite to finish in the Top 3. We have always been realistic, we have been fighting with Ferrari a Ferrari.

“We shouldn’t forget that they were pole position in Monaco in normal dry conditions. So in a way it’s almost a surprise as to why they were not there before the end of the season. We focused on ourself, we identified plenty of opportunities in terms of improvement overall, certainly for the race team point of view, specifically, in my case, and we are working on that, the motivation and the dedication is still there and I see a very strong team at McLaren. So happy from that point of view.”

James Key: “I think it’s largely a positive season. We have been wanting to consolidate our position in the standings. Let’s say we look from an operating view, so we had a Q3 and Top 10 material on every event, which by and large is good and we have had some great results this year, which is really good to see. We’ve been a bit closer to the front on several occasions and raced at the front too on several occasions on the tracks that have suited us. So I think we’ve seen a good progression there, I think we should be pleased with that. It’s been a mixed bag in the last phase which probably did a little bit of damage to our championship position.

“We had a difficult triple header for a lot of reasons, some of it was car performance and other things we didn’t expect. Even when we were in good positions, the tyre puncture issue in Qatar, for example, even the red flag in Saudi Arabia, it didn’t go away. So I think we’ve been on, I’m sitting in the circumstance a little bit, but the random circumstance became flat for late, but nonetheless, if we look at the season on the whole, we can be pleased. We know that Ferrari are a fearsome opposition, we’re definitely still playing catch up in many ways to them as a team. Now we’re still quite young as an organisation. We’ve got investments coming, etc, to catch up to be side of them, so it would be facilities. So to be there for so long in P3, it was great.

“From a package point of view, and then definitely some events which we knew would probably be a bit difficult for us before going there because we know our car, we know our weaknesses and strengths. To really understand the weekends where it didn’t work out, which is definitely car related, we were not as strong as we’d like it to be. We went through the analysis, we kind of knew what to expect. We did a lot of analysis to really, how these issues are cropping up and understand it with the new car next year, to try to make sure we account with a blank sheet of paper and legacy of built-in kind of behaviors in a new car. We can use the data even when it’s been difficult weekends to very good effect for the future. I don’t think we’ve got any surprises, particularly I think personally it was as expected. And in sub-optimal ways, the whole thing where our car would struggle, we did expect to quick in Monza. So, no big surprises like I said, but we come reinforced with what we need.”

Strength and weaknesses –

Key: “We didn’t actively choose to make high speed our biggest strength. I think, it was more a case of they were strength anyway that we had. Efficiency was kind of built-in from last year and it’s in a similar situation. Obviously, it’s a really nice and a bit positive part to have as it made the car certainly quick. I think the efficiency we want to hang on to, we did pay a lot of attention to track the 2020 car and as we did some 2019 car, it was a bit before my time, but I know that was a priority and that power that will kind of carry through. So yeah, efficiency feels good. I think what we are seeing with straightline braking which is our strength like high-speed corners is kind of reflects the sort of performance we can generate with the nature of the car we have.

“What we are missing and we did work on this between 2020 and 2021 is to generate performance in low speed. We know why we are not quite there yet. The car isn’t quite as robust as it is in the high speed in the low speed corners. What we found last year is that we had similar traits – in fact, we had it in 2019 as well – and we also had a very severe wind sensitivity last year that all point to very similar circumstances with the make-up of the car. So a lot of the work that went into the 2021 car – like cutting the downforce via the floor, etc – were specifically to address some of these problems.

“Unfortunately, the nature of them isn’t that there’s a big silver bullet which you can switch them on and it’s great, it takes a while to get them to work, you can make them work quicker but lose the strengths in other areas and so on. That was the battle we were up against. We knew that it would be difficult along those big corners where the grip level in low speed corners is really critical. We noticed it was a weakness of that car. Equally how we kind of knew that Monza would be strong because almost everything is really high speed corners. So it all stacks up for us but as I said it wasn’t through choice. It was a case of building up levels of performance which we knew where we had to be and then chipping away at making that performance spread across a wider range of corners, which takes time.”

Mercedes engine install/ use of tokens for it –

Key: “To be honest, we didn’t dwell on it for too long. We would love to have the token spend. It always seemed a little bit unfortunate that we had to spend on engine installation, a lot of components had to change. But of course, the intent of homologation was to keep components the same. So you can kind of understand it, but as I said, we didn’t dwell on it for too long. We brought some of the bits forward to overcome some of those issues.  So we did extra work, I suppose, in 2020 to compensate for the fact we didn’t have token spending in 2021. I think with the busy-ness of a new engine installation that probably dominated our thoughts, but yeah, I think on both counts actually, will it be things that we did differently?

“I think the engine installation would have been a bit different had we had normal freedoms. We obviously have to install a Mercedes engine in a car that was built for the Renault engine, and that’s kind of what the FIA wanted to see. So we wouldn’t have done that in normal conditions, so few compromises there. As far as token spend is concerned, yeah, there’s probably a few areas we would have attacked again, it would have been around the front suspension, maybe some, a little bit on the rear mechanically, but I don’t think it put us in a massive disadvantage because the concepts we wanted on the 2021 car, we kind of put on in 2020.”

McLaren-Mercedes in 2022 will aim to hit the ground running. Their issue now is possibly deemed to be running at the sharp end from first to last. A year into a 4-year partnership, the season went very well. Their aim now is to build on this year and get ahead of Ferrari (in fairness, very little between them) and take to Red Bull and Mercedes.

The story was written by Neil Farell

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