McLaren boss Zak Brown says the team are feeling "nervous excitement" ahead of the 2022 season after hitting the objectives set out for their new F1 car.
F1 will enter a new era this year as overhauled technical regulations come into play, alongside a tightening budget cap, all with the aim of levelling the playing field and promoting wheel-to-wheel action.
McLaren head into the rules reset on the back of another successful season, having increased their points tally year-on-year after parting ways with engine supplier Honda at the end of 2017 – the team now using Mercedes power.
McLaren feeling nervous excitement
Asked about McLaren's hopes for 2022 in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, Brown expressed cautious optimism, though admitted that the wide-ranging changes create "a big element of the unknown".
"Because we've got no real data, other than simulation, which obviously, as you know, Formula 1 teams are very good at, there's a nervous excitement," said Brown.
"In theory, we're feeling pretty good; we're happy, we're hitting the goals and objectives that we've set out, but because we don't really have a baseline or anything to compare it to historically, there's just a big element of the unknown."
As a result, Brown expects F1 fans to be in for a treat during the upcoming campaign.
"I think that's what's gonna make F1 mega exciting the year; someone's gonna get it right, and someone's gonna be getting it wrong," he continued.
"I think the grid will have an element of surprise to it. From where and how? I don't think any of us know."
Will the new rules create a level playing field?
Now a major factor for teams, the budget cap - introduced for the 2021 season and initially limiting spend to $145 million - comes down to $140m for 2022, with a final drop to $135m planned for 2023.
Brown is hopeful that the F1 grid will be more competitive going forward as the cycle takes effect, but reckons the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari will still have an advantage given their infrastructure.
"I think it will, over time [level the playing field], but we in particular still have technology and infrastructure to catch up [on], i.e. wind tunnel and things of that nature," Brown commented.
"While I think five or six teams are going to run at the budget cap, we're not all entering the race at the same stage, so to speak, so I think it will take a little bit of time - a couple of years - to get caught up to where we're entering a season and we have everything Mercedes has, or we have everything Ferrari has.
"We might have what they have on an annualised basis, but we don't have the same amount of toys [or] toy infrastructure that they have."
He added: "I still think they're [the top teams] coming into the new era with an advantage that I hope we and others erode over time to truly be on an equal footing, but we're not there yet."
McLaren will launch their new car, the MCL36, on 11 February, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo continuing at the wheel for a second season as teammates.
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