McLaren crashes in Bahrain: The MCL36 mystery

The season opener in Bahrain ended in a fiasco for McLaren. In qualifying, last year's World Championship fourth-placed driver had the third slowest car. McLaren was in free fall during the race. Woking is puzzled as to where the crash came from and whether there might be a bigger buck in the MCL36.

That's called a crash landing. McLaren was one of the apparent high-flyers during the first test drives in Barcelona. Unlike Ferrari, the Woking team did not confirm this impression in Bahrain. Instead, you fell into the abyss. In testing, persistent brake problems threw the team out of rhythm. McLaren temporarily solved it with modified brake shafts for better cooling.

Due to the lack of time, the parts had to be made of metal instead of carbon. McLaren hopes to upgrade accordingly by Imola. The interim solution brought improvement. The front brakes were not the problem at the season opener. Many other construction sites opened up that could not be tracked down during the test week because you couldn't really get to driving.

In qualifying, Daniel Ricciardo failed in Q1. Lando Norris packed up after Q2 and the 13th fastest lap. Haas, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Alpha Tauri were missing four to five tenths. The race went even further back. The McLaren drivers were beaten by Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin and Alexander Albon in the Williams. McLaren fell back to the end of the field. "We're starting the new era on the wrong foot," said the disappointed team boss Andreas Seidl.

McLaren lacks grip and downforce

It was missing everywhere. The MCL36 did not build enough mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce. "The balance was actually okay," said Seidl. In this case, that's not a good sign. The engineers don't seem to understand their car. In the third practice session, Norris rolled around the track with his front wing painted green. Using FloViz paint, engineers looked at the airflow on the front axle.

McLaren brought two different front wings with them. Perhaps the flow on the front axle no longer fits, which could also be related to the changed brake shafts. This is a sensitive area that affects the flow to the rear. "We don't know if we have a fundamental problem with the car. It's still too early for that. We have to go deep into the analysis and also wait and see other tracks to see whether it has something to do with the layout or not," says Seidl. Postscript: "Our goal is to be competitive on all tracks." That didn't work in 2021 because the old car weakened in slow corners.

The poor performance brought scoffers onto the scene, who credited McLaren with a light car during the tests in Barcelona. "Not true," contradicts the team boss. "We drove a completely normal test program in Barcelona.Our car worked right away there. The reliability was also there." The brakes are not put under as much strain on the fluid circuit as on the stop-and-go track at Sakhir. It was also significantly warmer in Bahrain.

Too slow everywhere

It was already apparent in Barcelona that the MCL36 doesn't necessarily like slow corners. There are more of those in Bahrain." Our benchmark is Mercedes with the same engine. We kept losing to them over the course of the lap. There was no pattern or specific spot where it stuck. The track revealed our weaknesses."

The horsepower advantage of the Mercedes engine seems to be gone. Ferrari customers Alfa Romeo and Haas can now apparently benefit from a performance advantage. The rise of the US racing team to the upper midfield is causing the critics who accuse Ferrari of being too closely linked. Haas develops his car in Maranello. McLaren has been pleading for years that this model must be dissolved. No team should be supplied with more than the engine and transmission. Everyone has to develop the rest themselves - namely independently in its own factory.

McLaren wants to keep calm

In the race, McLaren didn't struggle with overheating brakes, but with other deficits in cooling. They didn't want to go into detail. "We had to manage different parameters," explained Seidl. After just a few laps, the pilots were instructed to pull out of the slipstream of the drivers in front in order to cool certain components under the fairing, which could be heard from the radio messages.

The lack of experience made itself felt. "We went into the race without a race simulation. So it was important for us to finish with both cars." Sounds like Mercedes. The engine supplier had described the season opener as a test drive in disguise.

The start on Mediums was more of an act of desperation. According to the motto: do the opposite and hope. "We knew that we could lose places at the start with less grip, which happened then," explains Seidl. "We had hoped that the medium tire would degrade less and give us an advantage over the soft over the first stint. However, the grip was less than expected."

McLaren touches its own nose. "We know that we have a performance problem that we have to solve ourselves," says Seidl. The goal for the season of keeping fourth place and getting closer to the top teams already seems to be in jeopardy. "There's no point getting hectic now. We have to analyze everything calmly. We have the tools, the talent and the experience in the team to come back. It was only the first race. The season is long enough for us to catch up."


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