Until a decade ago, in those days when the most recognizable face of McLaren was that of Ron Dennis, the idea was installed in the collective imagination that there was no team in Formula 1 that revitalized more and better its cars throughout the season than the one in Woking. That belief remained valid until shortly after the first coronation of Lewis Hamilton, in 2008, the last drivers' title to be exhibited at the Technology Center, the emblematic headquarters of the team, sold in mid-2021 to the American company Global Net Lease (GNT), for about 197 million euros. Then came Red Bull – 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 to not depend on Mercedes as an engine supplier, considering the German manufacturer a direct rival.
That blow that implied the alliance with Honda (2015) anticipated the lowest point of the British structure, which that course ended in the penultimate place of the statistics reserved for the constructors. It was at 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 the timed of this Saturday the second and the third, half a second and six tenths, respectively, of the pole of Max Verstappen, who restored the status quo after the straw of a few days ago, in Singapore. Checo Pérez was fifth, Carlos Sainz occupied sixth place and Fernando Alonso, tenth.
F1 Japanese GP: schedule and where to watch the race
No team has improved as much as McLaren since the first stop on the calendar. In 15 races, the margin of the first of its cars with respect to the author of the pole has been reduced drastically and very progressively. In Bahrain, the opening round, 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 elimination (Q3) just two tenths behind Mad Max. Last week, the second position that the Somerset rider defended against the Mercedes at the Marina Bay circuit, finished ratifying the step forward taken by the British troops, from the reorganization applied to the technical organization chart last year.
The departure of James Key as McLaren's chief designer motivated Zak Brown, the principal, to shake up the hierarchy of papaya cars, unhappy 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 he still does not exercise in its entirety. The division has been made between the aerodynamics, performance and engineering departments. In the first has been placed Peter Prodromou, an eminence who for many years worked with Adrian Newey; while in January 2024 David Sánchez will join to lead the second (performance), after confirming his departure from Ferrari a few months ago. When Brown heard about the possibility of fishing another key piece of Red Bull he went looking for Rob Marshall, head of design and one of Newey's trusted men, who will take charge of the engineering area, that is, where ideas begin to take shape. The three will report to Andrea Stella, an illustrious paddock with a very long career, who has gone hand in hand with monsters such as Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, at 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," Brown told Autosport. A type of those that the American likes so much, better known for his work than for his words.
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