END OF YEAR REPORT: McLaren enjoyed an incredible in-season turnaround and have high hopes for 2024
McLaren may have had a muted final two races of the season, by their recent standards, but there is no getting away from what has been achieved in 2023. Their heralded Austria upgrade helped to catapult them from the lower end of the grid into frequently being Red Bull’s closest challenges – an eventual P4 in the constructors’ the reward in a season that started slowly then gathered significant momentum. Here is their end of year report…
Lando Norris – 2nd in Great Britain, Hungary, Singapore, Japan, USA and Brazil; Oscar Piastri – 2nd in Qatar
McLaren’s turnaround helped put Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri in regular podium contention, with the former racking up six runner-up positions along the way – though there was definitely potential for more had a couple of qualifying sessions gone in his favour.
The wait for that elusive first Grand Prix win for Norris continues but you get the sense that this is as close as he has ever been with McLaren. Such is his optimism he has predicted “exciting times ahead” for the team following what was accomplished in 2023.
Piastri also impressed plenty in his rookie season, and took a runner-up spot himself at the Qatar Grand Prix, though his shining glory this year will be winning the Sprint at the same venue. There have been numerous occasions where his potential for the future has shone through, and being one of the few to actually beat Max Verstappen to a chequered flag this year definitely deserves high praise.
McLaren ultimately secured P4 in the constructors’ ahead of Aston Martin by 22 points. At the start of 2023 that looked desperately unlikely when it was Fernando Alonso regularly appearing on the podium – but that shows just how impressive the papaya squad’s turnaround has been.
Lando Norris 15-7 Oscar Piastri
The head-to-head scores here are in favour of the more experienced Norris and, again, this could well have been a bigger number for the Brit. In particular he lamented his wild slide that saw him miss a shot at pole in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale – dubbing it “another one I’ve thrown away” – and had to settle for P5 while Piastri had sealed P3.
But Piastri more than held his own during his rookie campaign, and was regularly in touch with his team mate in those qualifying sessions. You also have to remind yourself that there were tracks Piastri had never driven before and, with his first year behind him, that experience will only help going forward.
Lando Norris 17-5 Oscar Piastri
Once again this is in favour of the Brit but Piastri’s race performances have brought him plenty of praise. There was his P4 finish at Silverstone, which could well have been P3 were it not for an unluckily-timed Safety Car, and there was a similarly impressive P5 in Hungary as well as a P2 in the Sprint in Belgium.
In the second half of the year, there were two trips to the podium, with a P3 in Japan and P2 in Qatar, and of course that Sprint win in Qatar too.
Norris, though, absolutely shone and was regularly the best of the rest behind Verstappen once the upgrade appeared. His efforts in Mexico also summed up what he was capable of in that McLaren, eventually finishing fifth after starting 19th on the grid – with plenty of bumpy rides along the way in that race.
All in all, the Brit finished 2023 with seven podium finishes and sixth in the drivers' standings, just a point behind Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso, who took fifth and fourth respectively. He also scored 108 more points than his team mate.
There are a lot of candidates here, from that day in Silverstone – when the true potential of their new package became clear – to the team’s P2 and P3 (for Norris and Piastri respectively) in Japan.
But Qatar probably takes the edge here as the team’s best moment of 2023. Once again it was a P2 and P3 finish on race day (this time with Piastri ahead of his team mate as runner-up) but this came with the added sweetener of that Sprint victory for the Australian rookie. Norris also took a worthy third place himself. In a weekend that was one of the toughest around for the drivers, the McLaren pair absolutely shone.
While you could go back to the pre-upgrade period of the season for a worst moment – P17 and a DNF in Bahrain, P17 and P15 in Jeddah, P17 and P19 in Miami are all poor outings – they have the mitigating factor in that the MCL60 was nowhere near what it became.
But considering the step up in performance McLaren took, you’d probably have to look at the penultimate race in Vegas as a real disappointment. For context, Norris had scored second in Brazil while Piastri had taken 14th, but that was only due to the Australian getting caught up in the race start collision between Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Alex Albon.
Yet at the following race in Vegas, it was a struggle from the start, with both McLarens exiting qualifying in Q1 – Norris P16 and Piastri in P19. Norris called that a ‘reality check’ for the team, but things didn’t get too much better on race day.
Norris would crash out of the Grand Prix, and was thankfully okay following the heavy impact, while Piastri did at least recover to take 10th place and bag the fastest lap. Two points across that weekend as the team were looking to cement P4 in the constructors’ was not what was hoped for, though it didn’t cost them that spot come the season's end.
McLaren feel like the team with momentum after 2023. Had they started the season with the package they ended up with, then there’s every chance they’d have been in that P2 battle in the constructors’ standings.
There is plenty of hope for the future, and there have been significant changes behind the scenes too. Andrea Stella has been lauded by McLaren CEO Zak Brown for the “fantastic job” he has done in his first season as Team Principal, and the organisation’s transformation of the technical department should also help going forwards – with both Rob Marshall and David Sanchez joining on January 1 from Red Bull and Ferrari respectively.
The team’s forward-thinking has also helped tie down their two drivers for the long-term, Norris until at least the end of 2025 and Piastri until the end of 2026. In that driver pairing ,they have arguably the most exciting line-up on the grid, and plenty of teams would love to work with that combination.
Much of 2024’s hopes rely on the car they can create, how much of a step forward it is on what was produced this year, and how much closer it can get to Red Bull. For many fans, they are the team to look at in mounting a challenge to the Milton Keynes outfit next year.
McLaren have both the leadership and the drivers to enjoy a memorable 2024. All they need now is the machinery to achieve those dreams.