TEAM GUIDE: Once F1’s dominant force, can the legendary McLaren team top the midfield in 2023?
Along with the likes of Ferrari and Williams, McLaren are one of the most successful Formula 1 teams in the sport, though it will be something of a surprise if they can mount a championship challenge in 2023. Here's everything you need to know about the Woking based squad ahead of the new season...
Drivers for 2023
Lando Norris #4: 1 pole position, 6 podiums, 428 points, 82 starts
Oscar Piastri #81: Debut season
Still only 23, Lando Norris will contest his fifth season with McLaren in 2023, having firmly established himself at the team, and on the F1 grid, since debuting as a teenager.
Highlights so far include a maiden pole position at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, which he looked set to convert into his first win but for a late rain shower, along with six podiums – including one last season when he was the only non-Red Bull/Ferrari/Mercedes driver to reach the rostrum.
It’s all change on the other side of the McLaren garage this year, as Daniel Ricciardo departs after two challenging seasons onboard – that stunning victory at Monza in 2021 aside. In his place comes Formula 3 and Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri, formerly reserve driver at Alpine.
Alpine initially announced Piastri as the replacement for Aston Martin-bound Fernando Alonso, but the 21-year-old Australian had already signed a preliminary deal with McLaren and the Contract Recognition Board eventually ruled in favour of the Woking team, after a very public tug of war between the two outfits.
McLaren entered the 2022 season with major reliability concerns, leading to a lacklustre showing at the Bahrain opener, where Norris and Ricciardo ran towards the back of the field.
But quick fixes yielded improved results and points soon flowed, with Norris scoring what would be the team’s best result of the campaign at Imola, following home Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in P3.
While Norris continued to rack up points, team mate Ricciardo’s struggles grew worse, ultimately prompting McLaren to search elsewhere and replace him – the Australian since returning to Red Bull in a third driver role.
Given the gulf in points between the two McLaren drivers (Norris scoring 85 more than Ricciardo), the door was opened for Alpine, who edged ahead for P4 in the constructors’ standings, leaving McLaren P5.
Behind Ferrari, McLaren are the second oldest and second most successful F1 force. It all started back in 1963, when New Zealander Bruce McLaren founded his eponymous outfit and hopped into the cockpit himself.
McLaren took the squad’s first victory at the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix and plenty more looked set to follow, but he was tragically killed in a Can-Am testing crash at Goodwood a couple of years later. However, the McLaren name lived on and soon took the spoils, initially with Teddy Mayer at the helm and later Ron Dennis.
Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and, most recently, Lewis Hamilton, have contributed to 12 drivers’ titles, while the team have eight constructors’ titles to their name. That’s despite plenty of run-ins between Senna and Prost during an infamous spell as team mates.
But the most recent title was achieved in 2008 and, following a host of managerial and supplier changes, McLaren – now led by American businessman Zak Brown – are still searching for a way back to the sharp end.
Where to begin with this ultra-successful team? How about winning seven out of a possible eight drivers’ titles, and six constructors’ titles, from 1984 to 1991? Or what about their utterly dominant 1988 season, when between them drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna won 15 out of the 16 races?
Having dropped from third to fifth in the space of two seasons, 2023 will be a crucial year for McLaren, who are at risk of falling into the bottom half of the F1 field again.
After Ricciardo’s difficulties, McLaren will be keen for Piastri to bed in quickly and complement Norris’s consistent points-scoring ways, but given that the rookie has not raced since his title-winning F2 season in 2021, he may need some time to get up to speed.
As per 2022 rivals Alpine, F1’s cost cap and wind tunnel sliding scale should help McLaren bridge the gap to the front of the field over time, while a new wind tunnel and simulator are also on the way.
For team boss Brown, the target is clear: reclaim P4 in the constructors’ standings, get some positive momentum building again and then turn their attention to the group of teams ahead.