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McLaren technical director James Key has revealed issues relating to both Brexit and the Covid pandemic have affected the team’s progress within F1’s new era.
A revamp of the sport’s technical regulations came into effect this season – a year later than originally slated – with a reprofiling of aerodynamics cleaning up the top face of the cars and instead reintroducing ground effect in an attempt to promote more exciting racing action.
McLaren is yet to begin operations in its own wind tunnel and instead has used the former Toyota facility based in Cologne to carry out aerodynamic testing.
But detailing the issues that came with the distance between the facility and the main factory in Woking, Key told GPFans: “I think that’s fair to say – this is not an excuse, we’ve all have had this challenge – I think we kind of suffered a bit in the early stages of the ’22 car, which is when you’re really adventuring in concepts and directions and beginning to look at the space you’ve got in which to work and seeing what you can do with it.
“It’s easy to forget, but there’s no real aero activity up until the beginning of last year.
“For us, at the beginning of last year, with a wind tunnel in Europe, just after Brexit, in the midst of Covid, it actually caused us a lot of logistical problems.”
On how preparations for the season were hampered, Key added: “We didn’t fulfil our quota of wind tunnel runs in the first, what would’ve been 24 weeks or so of the year, I think.
“So we were hugely behind on both cars, both the ’21 car and the ’22 car because we simply couldn’t make use of the wind tunnel or anything like as well as if could if it was just next door.
“The travel arrangements kept having to change -the Covid rules in Britain and Germany, were very different, they were very dynamic.
“People had to go out for a month maybe, rather than just a few days because they had to isolate. There’s all sorts of things going on.
“It meant that we simply couldn’t turn things around anything like as fast as you could if you had that facility next door.”
Teams are obliged to run with limited wind tunnel time under the FIA’s sliding scale rules, with the team at the bottom of the constructors given a larger quota than the team at the top of the standings, with five per cent increments for each step between.
With McLaren behind on its quota, Key revealed the sport’s governing body granted a catch-up period to ensure a level playing field.
“There were aspects like that, which I think, although it was a long time ago now, they were very relevant to a solid start in the ’22 car,” he added.
“I think whilst we, of course, compensated for that as best we could with CFD work and the FIA allowed us to catch up a little bit on our quota later in the year, that exploratory period was definitely a little bit damaged from that.
“I’m not saying that’s the reason but there are issues like that which perhaps aren’t obvious to everyone, it was absolutely unique to us.
“Beyond that, I think, to be honest, we’ve chided ourselves a little bit for not being as brave as we could’ve been.
“Some of the bodywork concepts we had were quite extreme, and actually not dissimilar to what we’ve begun to see on a few other cars, let’s say.
“We figured not knowing these cars very well and committing to something which was extreme in the first year of rags, ‘can we be confident we’re going to get this right particularly after some of that caught on the back, and so on early on? Have we got time to absolutely be sure?’ We ended up a little bit more conservative.
McLaren “should’ve been braver”
McLaren sits fifth in the constructors’ standings at the summer break with Alpine its nearest challenger in the race for best of the rest behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.
With the development race beginning to bring radical ideas and convergence in some areas, McLaren has been left to rue conservatism.
“Looking at that now, we thought ‘Actually, we had all these ideas’,” explained Key.
“Maybe we should’ve been a bit braver and less conservative about our approach.
“I think there are things like that which definitely could’ve been better had we pushed the boundaries a little bit more.”