McLaren vs. Ferrari: swapping locations and improving Miami?

McLaren vs. Ferrari: swapping locations and improving Miami?

With 69 points from four races, McLaren has had the best start to the season in the last twelve years. There was also Lando Norris’ debut in Melbourne. However, there is no trace of celebration in Woking. Team management set the bar high during the winter break with big declarations of war against Red Bull. But McLaren is currently further away from the market leader than it was at the end of last season.

Suzuka gave the engineers a great opportunity to test the correct development. The Premier class was just a guest at Honda’s home track six months ago. Despite the different seasons, the conditions were comparable. And Pirelli had the same combination in their luggage. This made the analysis easier.

However, the numbers did not speak for themselves. In qualifying, Lando Norris made his Papai racer look better than it was. As one of the few drivers in the field, the Brit was able to put together two faultless laps on the tarmac in the crucial Q3 section. The reward was third place on the grid, less than three tenths behind the Verstappen-sitter.


McLaren was fastest in qualifying, but Ferrari overturned that order in the race.

Ferrari overtakes McLaren in the race

In the end, Norris’ time was 0.969 seconds off Oscar Piastri’s best from the last qualifying session at Suzuka. The Australian won a local fight six months ago. By comparison: Red Bull improved by only 0.68 seconds. In Ferrari the progress was 0.86 seconds. Accurate GPS analysis showed that the pursuers had found the world champions, especially in S-curves.

During the race the picture changed. Suddenly the MCL38 could no longer keep up with its direct rivals. A long-term increase of 1.01 seconds was close to qualifying progress. But the competition was able to make the biggest gains in endurance racing. Red Bull improved by 1.26 seconds per lap compared to the last Suzuka race, Ferrari was even 1.76 seconds faster and easily won the duel.

“The new qualifying tires covered our weaknesses in the slow corners,” explains team boss Andrea Stella. “With more grip you don’t spend as much time in hard corners and we lost a bit on the straights. Unfortunately, our weakness was more evident in the race with harder compounds and used tyres.”

Andrea Stella and Oscar Piastri - McLaren - GP Japan 2024


Andrea Stella hopes that McLaren can overtake its direct rivals in the race for improvement.

Hope for the first improvement

In Suzuka, the strategy was also very strict. In the command center, the early pit stops tried to prevent the attack of Carlos Sainz and thus save a place on the podium. As a result, the last two spells were very long. “If we had stopped the stage fight with Lando earlier, it would have been possible to finish ahead of Leclerc,” admitted Stella. “But it was worth a try. In the end, the order kept up with the traffic.”

But the improvement is already visible to the McLaren drivers. The long-heralded development stage is scheduled to be lit at the sixth race of the year in Miami. The aim is to finally eradicate the weaknesses in the slow corners, which slowed drivers down last year. And it should bring McLaren closer to Ferrari.

However, Stella doubts that there will be a direct change of position in the pursuit duel: “If we just look at today, it should be enough to beat Ferrari. But they definitely have something up their sleeve. One step will probably win.” Let’s get ahead of them.” Stella now expects a tough race for progress throughout the season: “We showed last year that we can overtake our opponents with improvements. Back then we got more lap time than others. That’s our goal this year as well.”

Oscar Piastri - McLaren - GP Japan 2024


Engineers want to eliminate the MCL38’s weakness in slow corners.

Stella expects a steep development curve

Ferrari only plans to launch the big package at the European opener at Imola a weekend later. At least for Miami, McLaren would have a small advantage. But Stella is thinking long term. What is now going on in the engineering office makes the Italian ready to be optimistic about the future. “If what we plan ends up on the road, we can be happy, for now we are still on the path of development, I hope that at the end of the year we will no longer discuss the merits and weaknesses of the car in the arrangement of different routes. .”

McLaren also sees itself in a good position in terms of personnel. Because Norris and Piastri committed themselves long in advance, you can sit back and watch the current turmoil in the transfer market from the sidelines. McLaren is also firing on all cylinders in the engineering office. A plan for how resources will be distributed until the new regulations start in 2026 is already in place. Only the sudden departure of David Sanchez caused chaos at the beginning of April. As one of the three technical directors, the former Ferrari engineer and his team had to take care of the car’s concept and performance. But after just three months of service, McLaren announced an unexpected departure.

“We have to make the most of our players’ strengths,” explains Stella. “In David’s case, we realized that his abilities meant he deserved a higher position than we could give him at McLaren. We wanted to give an engineer of his caliber a good chance to find a place in another team “Being on board in time. with the start of the 2026 projects may be too late by just a few months.

David Sanchez - McLaren - GP Japan 2024


David Sanchez only started working at McLaren in January. In April he packed his things again.

More horse thanks to the new staff

At the moment Stella is replacing Sanchez himself, However, a suitable replacement is already being sought. However, the structure and three pillars of development will not change even after the change of personnel. Stella doesn’t see leaving as a big weakness either. “The division in development is working very well. We not only filled the leadership positions before the season, but also strengthened ourselves in the second row. Internally we call this our extra horsepower.” According to Stella, they are currently competing for third place in the World Cup standings. However, the engineer only wants to make a firm statement about the prospects once the Miami package has passed its baptism of fire.

First of all, Shanghai is on the agenda. But there are no expectations for McLaren to return to China. “Among the tracks in the first part of the season, we are more worried before this race because there are a lot of slow corners and hairpins there, maybe we need to control the damage,” warns Stella. “Maybe it’s a good thing that everyone has only one training session to prepare for the sprint. No one knows how the asphalt went during the break. And depending on the temperature, there may be problems with grains on the front axle again. There” You have to quickly find the right balance.”