RACE DEBRIEF

    McLaren have a dark horse look about them coming into the 2021 season, the team having enjoyed a solid pre-season test with their new Mercedes power units, following their P3 constructors’ finish last year. But despite that, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown ruled out the likelihood of any major upsets coming from his squad this season.

    McLaren were one of the stars of pre-season testing, seamlessly integrating both the Mercedes power unit, and new driver Daniel Ricciardo, into their MCL35M challenger – and with Brown confirming that the test had set them up for what he hoped would be another strong season.

    FP1: Verstappen quickest in first practice in Bahrain as 2021 season gets up and running

    “We had a smooth winter test, we got everything accomplished that we wanted to,” said Brown, speaking in the Friday press conference at the Bahrain Grand Prix. “The integration of the Mercedes power unit went very well, so we accomplished what we hoped to.

    “In the development of these cars, we're always looking to make improvements and learn and testing faults. But I'd say that so far everything's gone according to plan, and we just need to keep on our progression.”

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    Brown expects McLaren to remain behind Mercedes and Red Bull this season

    Ricciardo’s team mate Lando Norris appeared to confirm McLaren’s strong pace in 2021 by going third fastest in the opening free practice session of the year at the Bahrain Grand Prix, finishing FP1 ahead even of the works Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

    But despite Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff joking in the Friday press conference that McLaren “have a really good power unit now in the back, so we mustn't not consider them [as rivals]” Brown said it was unlikely that his team would be gate-crashing Red Bull and Mercedes’ expected title fight this season.

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    “I think realistically, Mercedes and Red Bull have been the class of the field here for a while,” said Brown. “We hope to close the gap, but I think it would be unrealistic to think that we would kind of get in the mix on a regular basis.

    “But we're on our way, and hopefully we'll be able to join that fight in the not-too-distant future.”

    Brown will at least be hoping for a strong showing at Bahrain this weekend, with Norris and former team mate Carlos Sainz having finished P4 and P5 at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix just a few months ago.