McLaren on the challenges of building their 2021 car: 'If you’re not encountering problems, you’re not being aggressive enough'
McLaren recently completed the first fire-up of their 2021 challenger, but while that's a big step in its development, the team have admitted that work on the MCL35M hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing…
Despite the teams using their 2020 chassis in 2021, McLaren are the sole squad on the grid who will have to accommodate a power unit change for this season, as they return to Mercedes power for the first time since 2014. And although according to McLaren Technical Director James Key the renewed partnership has already been working “very effectively”, production Director Piers Thynne admitted the team had nonetheless hit a few snags.
“Whereas every other team will carry over most of its car from last year into this year, our switch to the Mercedes power unit means that’s not the case for us,” said Thynne in an interview on McLaren's website. “It’s driven a huge amount of change and, essentially, we’ve been building a new car. The number of new parts on the MCL35M is about the same as when we built the  MCL35.
“We are on plan with a lot of things,” he added. “There are some challenges in certain areas at the moment – but that’s F1. If you’re not encountering any problems, then you’re probably not being aggressive enough. If everything is easy and straightforward it tends to mean you’re giving performance away because you’re not pushing the boundaries.”
Concurrent with work on the MCL35M, McLaren have also begun evolving the ideas that will go to make their 2022 car, when Formula 1 undergoes one of the most – if not the most – radical regulation changes in its history. But here again, Thynne said that McLaren’s approach for the 2022 car – the aerodynamic development freeze on which was lifted on January 1 2021 – had been an aggressive one, as the team seek to become regular race and title winners once more.
“When we do come to build the ’22 car, we want it to be right first time,” said Thynne. “We were able to hit the ground running with the wind tunnel programme for the ’22 car, which started at the beginning of this month when the aero development freeze was lifted. We manufactured a huge amount of parts to support the commencement of that programme. In terms of the actual production of the ’22 car, it’s very early days and the focus is predominantly on parts to be tested in the wind tunnel.
“The test pieces should push the boundaries aerodynamically because that’s how you gain performance,” he added. “If they work, then great. If they don’t, we can always take a step back for the actual production part. You need to shoot for the stars and that’s exactly what were doing to get back to the front of the grid.”
McLaren head into 2021 off the back of their most successful year since 2012 last season, with the team having beaten Racing Point to third in the constructors’ championship – while 2021 will also see Daniel Ricciardo moving over from Renault to join the team.