Will McLaren build off their strong start to the 2024 F1 season?

Will McLaren build off their strong start to the 2024 F1 season?

We are three races into the Formula 1 season.

While much remains the same from 2024 — Red Bull is leading the Constructors’ Championship and Max Verstappen is atop the Drivers’ standings — recent events have shaken the field up a bit. Mercedes is floundering, McLaren is strong, and Ferrari has certainly closed the gap to Red Bull.

Then there is a fascinating fight shaping up in the midfield, one that has Visa Cash App RB F1 Team in front at the moment thanks to a strong drive from Yuki Tsunoda in the Australian Grand Prix.

With so much on the line, and a short break until the Japanese Grand Prix, this is a good time to take stock of where each team stands at the moment. But rather than a simple review, we’ll look at the biggest question facing each team right now.

So far, the questions have largely been on the negative side of the ledger. Earlier this week we took a look at Alpine, asking how quickly progress will come for a team desperately needing a step forward. We also asked whether Sauber can fix a pit stop issue that has plagued them in each of the season’s first three races.

On Wednesday we asked whether Williams would be facing a hangover after everything they went through in Australia, whether Haas had truly eliminated their biggest gremlin from last season and yes, just how hot the seat really is under Daniel Ricciardo.

We started Thursday with a look at Aston Martin. then it was a look at their power unit supplier, Mercedes. Sure it is early, but is it already too late for the Silver Arrows?

Finally we get to something more positive.

McLaren.

McLaren: Can they stay red-hot?

A year ago the questions around McLaren were largely negative. There were talks of a “crisis,” and changes to the management team. They left the Australian Grand Prix a season ago mired at the bottom of the table with 12 points on the season, all of which came in Melbourne when Lando Norris finished in sixth, and rookie Oscar Piastri finished in eighth.

But to say that double-points result came on merit would ignore the context of that Melbourne afternoon. Charles Leclerc’s day came to an end on the very first lap due to a collision. George Russell’s Sunday drive ended early due to engine failure. The Alpine duo of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon drove into each other on a late-stage restart, knocking both drivers out of the points. Then there was Carlos Sainz Jr., who was hit with a five-second penalty for a collision with Fernando Alonso on that same restart, which dropped him from fourth, to twelfth.

With five contenders out, McLaren was suddenly in the points.

But as you probably know, things changed for the team starting in the summer. Gone were the days of just fighting for points, as Norris explained to me ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and suddenly McLaren was in the mix at the front of the field. By season’s end, they were charging up the table, and looking for wins, as Piastri told me ahead of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The reason?

A faster race car, according to CEO Zak Brown.

That, coupled with what Brown told me was the “best driver pairing on the grid,” saw McLaren rocket up the standings. By season’s end they were in fourth, with an outside chance to catch Ferrari for third. But while that did not materialize, they indeed finished the season in fourth, a far cry from where they began the year.

And if you thought the winter layoff would slow them down, think again. McLaren began the year with a double-points finish in Bahrain — the team’s first since 2021 — and it came at the end of a week where they believed the MCL38 might not fare well. “It’s good to begin the season with a strong performance here in Bahrain,” said Team Principal Andrea Stella following the race. “We’ve been reliable, we were quick enough to fight the Mercedes today, and this allowed us to score good points at a track we know isn’t the best for the characteristics of our car.”

In Saudi Arabia, it was another double-points finish for the team with Piastri in P4, and Norris in P8. “We take the positives from the first two races with the knowledge it will be a battle of development throughout the season. We are pleased to be so close to a podium finish and know where we have to keep working and improving the car,” said Stella following the race in Jeddah.

Then came Australia, and the team’s first podium. Norris started the race in third, and finished in the same spot for his first podium of the season. Piastra started right behind him on the grid in fifth, and picked up one spot over the course of the afternoon to finish fourth. Another double-points finish, and a fairly big haul at that.

Instead of leaving Melbourne stuck at the bottom of the table having fought for scraps, they head to Japan sitting third in the standings, 38 points behind Ferrari for second, but 29 points clear of Mercedes behind them.

And they head to Suzuka, a track which suited them very well a season ago. Last year the Japanese Grand Prix came at the end of the year, and the result was a double-podium finish for McLaren, with Norris in second and Piastri in third.

They have been red-hot to start the season.

Can they stay that way?

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