Excitement and enthusiasm are the feelings within McLaren as they head into the 2021 Formula 1 season. The team are desperate to get racing following their third place in the constructors’ standings, their best campaign since 2012.
McLaren are also eager to run their new Mercedes power unit at full pelt as the two F1 giants partner each other once again after six years apart.
The McLaren-Mercedes partnership delivered world titles to Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton whilst the likes of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya won multiple Grand Prix.
Current drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris are hoping to follow in the footsteps of those great names.
Ricciardo and McLaren, the perfect match?
Ricciardo joins McLaren full of energy, knowing that the next few years are likely to be the time period when he is at the peak of his career. He is confident he is in the right place to achieve his lifelong goal of becoming world champion.
"I feel I'm coming here with a bunch of momentum behind the team as well, not only results, but I think some really good stability in the team and the infrastructure,” said Ricciardo.
“There’s a feeling of a hungry team that has gone through some tough times, but the resurgence is happening, it’s real, and they know that success could be in the short-term future. I felt that from the first day I walked through the door.
“The feeling that I can help them achieve that success sooner is all the motivation I need.”
The Australian will take more confidence from McLaren’s good run in pre-season testing. They sneaked under the radar in Bahrain when the spotlight was on the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull to focus on testing different setups and changing parts on the car.
Clinical and underrated pre-season test
McLaren’s innovative new diffuser which extends beyond the back of the car has been able to recover a lot of the downforce lost from the regulation changes to the floor.
Other teams may attempt to copy this revolutionary design but McLaren are one step ahead of the game in this area of the car.
When Yuki Tsunoda and Max Verstappen were trading fastest laps during the final hour of testing, Ricciardo completed a full race simulation and matched the times of Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas from the day before.
It was a great way to end McLaren’s test, having gathered plenty of data to find a nice balance on the car which both drivers were happy about.
"We haven't gone low fuel and full beans," explained Norris after the final test day. "[We've] a lot of sensors on the car and everything like that. So no one shows everything. You don't really get to know exactly what the cars gonna do when you get there."
"But, I think, in terms of going out and just feeling like you can push the car to a good limit and within a reasonable pace, I think I'm very happy.
“It's one of the good things that we've come out and, from day one, we've managed to do that. I think that's a good achievement for us as a team, and not any big problems - touchwood."
A crucial campaign for the career of Norris
Norris knows 2021 is a huge year in his F1 career. He enters his third season in the sport and faces a big test against the highly-rated Ricciardo. The young Brit admits his maiden podium in Austria last year gave him confidence although he was second-best to Carlos Sainz over the 2020 campaign.
Norris has talked about playing more of a lead role at McLaren and has put up with the pressure very well during his racing career.
Since he was picked up by McLaren as a junior in 2017, there has been a lot of spotlight on Norris to make it to Formula 1. From racing in a support series championship in 2014, Norris went on to win European F3 title and lived up to expectations in a highly competitive 2018 F2 championship.
The 21-year-old has been a hit with fans due to his off-track commitments and opened up about his recent mental health struggles earlier this year.
On the race track, Norris’ starts have been a weakness and if McLaren are consistently locking out the third row of the grid, he has to ensure he does not fall down the order on the opening lap.
What to expect from McLaren in 2021
McLaren have a big opportunity to not only consolidate third place in the constructors’ championship but to close the gap to Mercedes and Red Bull, and be perfectly placed to take advantage of any mishaps at the front of the field.
Podiums are certainly on the cards for McLaren-Mercedes in 2021.