McLaren MCL60 has been receiving incremental upgrades, although the team's drivers and management have tried to downplay the significance of the change in preparation for recent races. Despite this, McLaren finished in the top three in last weekend's sprint races at the Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, and Spa. After a "painful" day driving the MCL60, which lacked straight-line speed, Lando Norris said it was a "good surprise" to finish seventh at the Belgian Grand Prix this past weekend. Norris had a promising starting position of seventh, but early difficulties caused him to fall out of the top ten. After failing to progress on the hard tyres, he switched to the soft and immediately fell to last place. But he fought off a late push from Esteban Ocon and moved up the standings to finish seventh. After the race, Norris shed light on McLaren's poor performance in comparison to the competition.
F1 Belgian Grand Prix: What Caused McLaren to Struggle During the Race?
McLaren's massive wing made it far slower than the other cars on the straights but almost as quick as Red Bull in the second sector of Spa-Francorchamps, which accounts for about half of the overall lap. When the track was wet, this benefit was amplified. However, McLaren's large wing wasn't a strategic move. It originated from having no choice. There had been little time to dedicate to developing a dedicated low-downforce Spa wing due to the high manufacturing needs of the recent bodywork changes (first revealed in Austria and Silverstone). It was possible to employ a smaller wing, but doing so would have resulted in more time lost in the middle sector and less gain on the straights.
In a post-race interview, McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella said, “We have done quite a lot of work redesigning the car from the start of the season. One thing that we haven’t attacked yet is actually the car at a low drag level. So, there wasn’t much efficiency to gain by going on a small rear wing and we decided to stay at the point in which the car is most efficient. There’s not only a tactical choice based on you want to be quick in the corners and you are set to be slow in the straights; it’s more what the car has to offer as a function of the rear wing level.”
Stella realised after Sunday's race that maximising the car's performance in low-drag configuration would be crucial in getting ready for Monza in September. Norris's race on Sunday was challenging due to the wing's offset from the others, but it also produced some shining moments for the team.
F1 Belgian Grand Prix: McLaren’s Race Performance at Spa-Francorchamps
Sprint race runner-up Piastri was the first driver to drop out of the main race, citing suspension problems as the cause of his retirement. The SF-23 of Sainz, which was damaged when he and Piastri collided at turn 1, was easily overtaken by Alonso and other drivers. In order to get into the scoring position, Stroll and Russell overtook Norris. Norris dropped to sixteenth after a slow pit stop.
Norris was having a bad day as well. Despite switching to hard tyres, he was overtaken on the right and left by Albon and Ocon. After falling behind Daniel Ricciardo, his ex-teammate in Les Combes, Norris raged at his team.
While Norris finished seventh, Esteban Ocon made a series of bold passes in the closing laps to climb up to eighth, including a stunning past of Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri, who finished the race tenth, just behind Lance Stroll.