With Charles Leclerc sitting comfortably atop the timing screens for Ferrari, putting together the end-of-day Formula 1 testing report with around 20 minutes left on the clock seemed like a safe bet.

Although Leclerc remained P1 for Ferrari, a minor rewrite was required after a surprise name popped up into second place with a couple of quick lap times.

5774263478001

CrashTV: 

Lando Norris’ first run in the new McLaren MCL34 car ended on a real high. He initially went P2 after lapping six-tenths off Leclerc’s time before managing to shave another 0.3 seconds off his PB in the final five minutes. He may have been running on a softer compound tyre than Leclerc (C4 to C3), but it was nevertheless a time that caught the attention of those in the Barcelona paddock.

Two days down, two P2 finishes, and two 100-lap days. For starters, things have been very encouraging for McLaren.

We’ve seen how a difficult pre-season can act as a warning sign of things to come, particularly in the past two turbulent years. 2017’s opening test acted as the first fracture in the final break of McLaren’s relationship with Honda as issue after issue limited its running. While 2018 was more encouraging, there were still a number of teething problems that foreshadowed the difficult season to follow.

This time around though, things have been going far more smoothly – acting as another key shift compared to recent times for the team – as both Norris and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. have hit the ground running with the new car.

Pace is always hard to judge this early on, making mileage the key stat teams can take comfort in. And if you’re McLaren, compared to recent years, it makes for very good reading indeed.

After Sainz managed 119 laps on Monday, Norris racked up 104 today to give the team a cumulative total of 223 for the first two days of running.

Last year, the team managed only 88 laps through the first two days in Barcelona, and ended the test with a final total of 260, largely thanks to a mammoth final day in which 161 laps were completed. The third day saw Fernando Alonso only manage 11 laps as snow hit the circuit, so this figure will likely have been higher.

McLaren is already ahead of the curve compared to where it stood in its final year with Honda. It managed only 69 laps through the first two days of testing in 2017, and ended the first four tests on 208 laps.

The team may trail Ferrari (326), Mercedes (313) and Renault (232) for laps, but given its recent struggles, to be sitting fourth on the mileage charts will come as a boost to everyone at the team, as well as easing any nerves the team may have had coming into pre-season testing.

The final point is particularly crucial to Norris, for whom every lap is key entering his rookie F1 season.

“It’s good to know that we can get through pretty much a whole day with no big problems,” said Norris.

“But it’s only day two. I’m sure we’re going to run into a couple of problems at some point, but it’s just making sure I guess that we can get through this whole test. We know what the problems might be on the car that could come up, so it’s just making sure we figure them out before Australia, and none of them pop up, knowing that we could have fixed it at some point over these couple of weeks.

“It’s good confidence from myself and from the team, knowing that there’s not a lot to keep chasing up on and keep checking after every run. I think for the team side as well, it’s good for them, knowing they’re going to be confident getting through every run plan possible through every day.”

Norris also said he could note an improvement in the team’s mood compared to last year – perhaps unsurprising given that 12 months ago, every press session with then-racing director Eric Boullier seemed to start with words to the effect of “what happened to cause the breakdown…”

“I definitely think it is an improvement from last year,” said Norris. “Obviously I wasn’t the driver last year, so wasn’t as integrated as what I am now. But in terms of seeing everyone, the motivation from everyone, how they work as a whole group and a family pretty much, it definitely seems to be going in the right direction.

“It’s not perfect, but I think some of the problems that we have had or some of the niggles that we’ve had to overcome have been ironed out slowly. It’s just trying to make sure everyone works in the right direction and in a positive way, but it’s still going to take a bit more time before I think everyone is working together in the correct way.

“But it’s going in the right direction, which is the main thing.”

Norris cautious optimism echoes the feelings that came out of McLaren at its car launch last week. The team isn’t looking to make massive statements or set its goals sky high, but instead focus on doing the best job it possibly can and work on what it can control. And that this stage, mileage is king – so the team deserves credit for that.

And Norris wasn’t looking to make any sweeping declarations about the step the MCL34 car has made over last year’s troublesome MCL33 when asked it the new model had resolved many of its predecessor’s issues.

“It’s a different car to last year, there’s a lot of different things - but also the car is very different in terms of aero I guess compared to last year with the [regulation] differences,” said Norris.

“Some things we’ve improved on from a car perspective, but there’s a lot to work on, a lot of stuff that we’ve learned over the last couple of days that we need to fairly quickly develop and improve on for the rest of the test, but also going into the first race.

“It’s hard to say if all the problems are gone. There are still some things that we struggle with. It’s not a perfect car, for sure.

“But I think so far, so good, and between Carlos and myself, we’re reasonably happy with how everything felt so far.”

So far, so good indeed. The goal for McLaren will now be to build on this solid foundation and carry this early promise through pre-season.

Comments

Loading Comments...