Few would have thought that McLaren would be race winners anytime soon following their disastrous stint with Honda from 2015 to 2017, and after the horrible 2018 when they switched to Renault power. That year wasn’t horrible due to their engine, but because it exposed weaknesses within the team that highlighted the trouble they were in. However, 2019 saw McLaren finish fourth in the championship, and they went one better in 2020 by taking third place, and coming oh so close to winning the 2020 Italian Grand Prix as Carlos Sainz finished second behind Pierre Gasly.
They slipped to fourth behind Ferrari in 2021, but scored more points than they did in 2020 and took an emotional 1-2 finish in the Italian Grand Prix as Daniel Ricciardo led home teammate Lando Norris. That pairing enters its second season in 2022 with both drivers signed up for the long term and eager to push McLaren further up the grid. For fans of the sport, it was horrible to watch McLaren struggle for so long towards the back of the grid. Now, though, there is a real belief that they could find themselves firmly back at the front of the Formula 1 field.
An Impressive Recovery To Race Winners Again
The issues in the modern McLaren-Honda years are well documented. We won’t go into too much detail, but underpowered and unreliable engines from 2015 to 2017 saw McLaren split and grab a Renault engine supply from 2018 to the end of 2020. The 2019 season saw the team starts its rebuilding process, and they took a third place finish with Sainz at that year's Brazilian Grand Prix. McLaren then started 2020 with a bang as Norris finished third in Austria, and Sainz then added his Monza podium to that tally.
Sainz left for Ferrari in 2021, but Ricciardo joined in his place. However, it was Norris that led the McLaren charge in 2021 as Riccardo struggled to adjust to the MCL35M. Norris took podiums in Imola, Monaco, Austria and Monza and a sensational pole position in Russia, a race he should have won had he and the team not botched a late call to stay out on dry tires as the rain came. Despite his struggles, Ricciardo’s win in Monza was hugely impressive and judging by his smile in the Barcelona test, things are already looking more promising for the year ahead.
The Norris And Ricciardo Lineup
Norris and Ricciardo have to be one of the strongest driver pairings on the current grid. Norris seems to just keep going from strength to strength, and was one of the standout drivers of 2021, perhaps only behind title contenders Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. He was incredibly unfortunate to lose out on his win in Russia, as rain fell at the Sochi track and McLaren kept him out on dry tires, as rival Hamilton came in for intermediate tires. But the world now knows Norris is a superstar in the making, and there will surely be more to come this season.
Ricciardo struggled massively through most of 2021. He simply could not adapt to the driving style of the McLaren, but he was on finer form during the second half of the year, particularly after his Monza win. It must be stressed strongly though that Ricciardo has not forgotten how to drive. A total reset, and a new car should see the Australian back on form. The question is, will he still be in the shadow of Norris when the season starts again in Bahrain?
A Promising Barcelona Test For McLaren
McLaren it is arguable had one of the best tests of any team in Barcelona. There were no major reliability issues, and the car seemed totally immune to the porpoising that affected pretty much every other team. This is a good sign, as it's believed eliminating porpoising as soon as possible could give a team a big advantage. This doesn’t automatically mean McLaren will be on top come the Bahrain season opener, but it leaves them to focus on the MCL36 and not spend time fixing the issue. And as an added bonus, the new McLaren looked quick, composed, and like a solid foundation for the team to build on.
McLaren Looking Ahead To 2022
McLaren should at least be around about where they were in 2021, fighting for third place in the championship. That in itself would be a good thing, meaning they’ve not slipped back during the major rule change for 2022. But the team will no doubt be hoping to be more of a thorn in the side of Red Bull and Mercedes. And that isn’t impossible at all. The new cars should allow for closer racing, and there is the potential for a team like McLaren to vault up the order. The Bahrain test taking place this week will give us some clues as to how it will play out for McLaren in 2022.
Sources: Autosport, Formula 1, McLaren