Verstappen restores the ‘status quo’ | Formula 1 | Sports


Until a decade ago, in those times when the most recognizable face of McLaren was that of Ron Dennis, the idea settled in the collective imagination that there was no team in Formula 1 that revitalized its cars more and better throughout the years. the season than that of Woking. That belief remained in force until shortly after Lewis Hamilton’s first coronation, in 2008, the last drivers’ title on display at the Technology Center, the team’s emblematic headquarters, sold in mid-2021 to the American company Global Net Lease. (GNT), for about 197 million euros. Then Red Bull appeared – four doubles between 2009 and 2013 – and Mercedes – another seven, between 2014 and 2020, already in the hybrid era –, which imposed a paradigm shift and forced McLaren to look for an alternative so as not to depend on Mercedes as engine supplier, considering the German manufacturer a direct rival.

That turnaround that involved the alliance with Honda (2015) anticipated the lowest point of the British structure, which that year ended in the penultimate place in the statistics reserved for manufacturers. It was in Suzuka, precisely, where Fernando Alonso channeled his frustration through an expression that became famous: “This is a GP2 engine!” And it is precisely on the Japanese track, eight years later, where McLaren confirmed the enormous progress it has made in 2023. Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris finished this Saturday’s qualifying second and third, half a second and six tenths behind , respectively, of the pole of Max Verstappen, who restored the the state in which after the incident a few days ago in Singapore. Checo Pérez was fifth, Carlos Sainz took sixth place and Fernando Alonso, tenth.

No team has improved as much as McLaren since the first stop on the calendar. In 15 races, the margin of the first of his cars with respect to the author of the pole It has been reduced drastically and very progressively. In Bahrain, the opening event, Norris was 1.6 seconds behind Verstappen. In Baku, the fourth test, the difference became nine tenths, to be reduced to half a second in the seventh, in Montmeló. A month later, at Silverstone, Norris started from the front row, after finishing the final qualifying round (Q3) just two tenths behind. Mad Max. Last week, the second position that the Somerset rider defended against the pressure of the Mercedes on the Marina Bay circuit, confirmed the step forward taken by the British troops, based on the reorganization applied to the technical organization chart last year. .

The departure of James Key as McLaren’s head of design motivated Zak Brown, the director, to shake up the papaya single-seater hierarchy, dissatisfied above all with the pace of optimization of the car with the championship underway. Instead of a single visible head, the executive created a tricephaly that still does not fully exercise. The division has been made between the aerodynamics, performance and engineering departments. In the first, Peter Prodromou has been placed, an eminence who for many years worked alongside Adrian Newey; while in January 2024 David Sánchez will join to lead the second (performance), after his departure from Ferrari was confirmed a few months ago. When Brown found out about the possibility of landing another key part of Red Bull, he went to find Rob Marshall, head of design and one of Newey’s trusted men, who will be in charge of the engineering area, that is, where the Ideas begin to take shape. The three will report to Andrea Stella, an illustrious paddock with a very extensive career, which has gone hand in hand with monsters like Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, in Ferrari. “Despite not focusing everything on a single technical director, it was necessary to choose someone to take the reins. “Andrea, because of his character, is the ideal person for that position,” highlights Brown, speaking to Autosport. One of those guys that Americans like so much, better known for his work than for his words.

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