How McLaren Plans to Take Next Step in F1 with MCL38

Jackson Wheeler
9 Min Read

  • McLaren has continued on a path of improvement with the MCL38 and says it has yet to see any sign that its development curve is dropping off.
  • McLaren enters 2024 with fresh senior personnel and new equipment.
  • No. 1 driver Lando Norris has champion potential but is cognizant of the areas where he still has improvements to make.

McLaren started 2023 in the doldrums, but a mid-season Formula 1 revolution catapulted the team into regular podium contention as it vaulted to fourth overall.

As it unveils its 2024 car, the MCL38, Autoweek delves into how McLaren plans to make the next step.

Continuing an Upward Trajectory

McLaren realized in late 2022 that its design trajectory had limitations and changed tact, introducing a heavily upgraded car midway through 2023.

The decision paid off handsomely for McLaren as the updates worked, elevating the team into the group behind the dominant Max Verstappen, while further upgrade packages subsequently continued the upwards momentum.

McLaren has continued along this direction with the MCL38 and says it has yet to see any sign that its development curve is dropping off.

mclaren mcl38

McLaren Racing

McLaren’s MCL38 for 2024

“I have to say we don’t see the diminishing returns, this obviously will have to be proven once we put the car on the ground,” says McLaren team principal Andrea Stella. “When it comes to the wind tunnel development or CFD development we see that the gradient we established last year that led to the Austria development and then the Singapore development it seems we can maintain it, that’s where I would expect the launch car to be at the start of the season.”

McLaren is already working on early season upgrades, which Stella has labelled “quite interesting,” as it continues to explore development avenues into year three of the current regulation cycle.

“It could be there’s some areas of the car you realise maybe the investment here is not worthwhile, but so far, we have not found it,” says Stella. “You look at the car, suspension, tires, aerodynamics, they all still have quite a lot to offer in these generation of regulations so what we are looking at very carefully is to make sure we’re in condition to cash in these performance opportunities that do seem to be available.

“This is reflected in numbers, so we can’t fool ourselves, we need to see these numbers go up, right now it’s what we seem to be finding in development, but it’s a slightly different story when it comes to competitiveness on track as this depends on what the opposition has done.”

New Personnel, Equipment

McLaren enters 2024 with fresh senior personnel and new equipment.

Its three-pronged technical structure has now been completed after Rob Marshall and David Sanchez both officially started their new roles on January 2, joining incumbent Peter Prodromou.

Marshall has joined after 17 years with Red Bull Racing, rising to becoming chief engineering officer, while Sanchez has moved across from Ferrari.

All three have technical director roles, with Marshall responsible for Engineering and Design, Sanchez responsible for Concept and Performance, with Prodromou heading the Aerodynamics team.

McLaren’s MCL38 was also developed exclusively in its new in-house wind tunnel, at its Woking headquarters, which was operational from mid-2023 after years of planning and construction. That is the main ingredient of various infrastructure projects McLaren has been readying in order to make the next step towards title contention.

“They’ve been part of great teams, great projects,” said Stella of Marshall and Sanchez. “We see this integrates with our know-how, so it’s not like ‘ah we should do things in this way, which is opposite to what you do’, it’s ‘we can do things in this way’, which adds to what you do, which is refreshing.”

f1 grand prix of abu dhabi

Eurasia Sport Images//Getty Images

Lando Norris finished sixth in the F1 Drivers’ Championship in 2023.

Time for Norris to Take Next Step

Driver stability is a key asset for any title-contending Formula 1 team and McLaren has its partnership sorted for the next few seasons.

Lando Norris, with the team for all of his five seasons in Formula 1, has signed on through at least 2026—when new regulations will be introduced—while Oscar Piastri agreed a deal to 2026 towards the end of his rookie campaign last year.

Norris was one of the standout drivers of 2023, finishing sixth in the standings with seven podiums, and he has now stood on the rostrum 13 times. That means he currently shares a record with Nick Heidfeld, which is the most career podiums without a victory.

McLaren has no doubt that Norris has champion potential but is cognizant of the areas where he still has improvements to make.

“When you deal with champions, and you deal with delivering at such a high level in professional sport, you have to look at opportunities very holistically,” says Stella. “Things are quite connected, like the physical state, which is connected to the mental state, which is connected to wellbeing overall and the integration in the team. All these factors are very strong on Lando’s side. The game is so competitive, that you need to be at the top consistently. That’s what makes the difference, it’s not the top potential—especially for Lando, this is almost unexplored as to how good he is.”

mclaren mcl38

McLaren Racing

McLaren, which finished fourth in the 2023 F1 Constructors’ Championship, has a lot of work to do to catch Red Bull.

Operational Improvements

The Verstappen-shaped powerhouse was the roadblock to several prospective McLaren wins in 2023 and overhauling that force in 2024 will be multi-faceted.

McLaren was a much sharper outfit through 2023, setting a new world record for a pit stop with a 1.8-second change, and in Qatar it claimed a Sprint Race win courtesy of the excellent Piastri.

McLaren proved its faith in Piastri mid-2022 in its infamous tug-of-war with Alpine and the Australian delivered on that trust with some outstanding performances as a rookie.

Stella is confident that the Norris and Piastri will be a formidable duo in 2024.

“The relationship between Lando and Oscar I think is a point of strength in our team,” says Stella. “I have to say that being Lando’s teammate is enjoyable because we have seen this kind of relationship with Carlos (Sainz), with Daniel (Ricciardo), therefore it’d like to recognize and acknowledge how much Lando creates the condition for establishing fruitful kind of relationship that supports the team, supports the growth of both drivers, and then we’ve got Oscar, and he came with similar characteristics.

“We can see this has created a very functional collaboration between the two drivers. We really look forward next year to making one more step even in relation to the way the drivers collaborate with each other, and the way they collaborate with the teams, if we see opportunities in the future, we always talk about technical aspects, the car, definitely looking at last year from an operational point of view we could have done better.”

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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