Daniel Ricciardo’s team was reportedly “spooked” by its optimal pre-season testing data to the point they played shadow games with rivals.
Daniel Ricciardo’s team had such a positive pre-season testing event they played shadow games to hide their success, a report claims.
The Aussie star’s first season with McLaren is off to a red-hot start following an impressive opening two days at this month’s official testing weekend in Bahrain.
However, the 31-year-old slipped down the time sheets on the final day of testing when rival teams pulled out their softest tyres and went on lightning runs.
A report from Sky Sports’ pit-lane expert Ted Kravitz this week claims there are rumours McLaren deliberately put the queue in the rack to hide their success.
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McLaren has emerged as a wildcard in this year’s Formula 1 world championship with Kravitz telling the In The Fast Lane Podcast some of his contacts believe McLaren could even be the second-fastest team on the grid behind Red Bull heading into the season-opener at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 29 (AEDT).
The rebounding team is coming off the chaos of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic derailed season where they stunned the world to finish third in the constructor’s championship and are set to unleash a Mercedes power unit for the first time since 2015 this year.
Kravitz says there are some signs that things are going very well for the UK-based team.
“It was weird at the test actually, McLaren, they had a very good day one in the dusty conditions and then they had a good day two,” he told the Podcast.
“And then they went all sort of coy and they thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we better not show everything’.
“It’s like they were scared. They spooked themselves and they didn’t want to give anything away so they stopped setting quick times to put everybody off the scent. But they were very happy.
“That was them saying globally, everything is looking optimal in the new McLaren. There are going to be some doubts about whether they will be even faster than the factory Mercedes team as well. Some people have got McLaren in second behind Red Bull.”
Former F1 driver Romain Grosjean and tyre manufacturer Pirelli were among those to laud McLaren’s early showing, while seven-time world champion Hamilton said “it’s great to see McLaren looking strong”.
The team also raised eyebrows when they unveiled their new MCL35M car before testing, showing a clever diffuser loop-hole that is rumoured to give the car an advantage on the rest of the grid.
McLaren’s novel solution to combat aero regulations implemented this season to trim the downforce off cars also received a tick of approval.
F1 has enforced a reduction in the height of diffuser strakes (little stalactites attached to the part) by 50mm, but McLaren exploited a loophole in the rules to increase the size of their strakes at the rear of the car by extending the floor transition in an area not impacted by the regulation changes.
However, the biggest change remains the move from Renault power to a Mercedes power unit.
McLaren have had one of the most demanding and busiest off-seasons as a result of their engine supplier change in a year when regulations were put in place to limit the amount of changes teams are able to make as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic through Formula 1’s complex token system.
Kravitz says it is a “game-changer” for Ricciardo’s outfit.
For a team that has moved from finishing ninth in the constructor’s championship in 2017 to finishing third last year, the added might of the best power unit on the grid is another very promising sign.
McLaren in 2019 signed a deal to run with Mercedes power from 2021-24. Suddenly they are a team that is capable of potentially challenging the all-conquering world champions supplying them their engine.
McLaren technical director James Key was happy earlier this month with the amount of information garnered from analysing the team’s output in Bahrain, but was playing down expectations, keen to point out how much work still needs to be done.
“It was a little bit baby steps to get us to this week and hope that we could be reliable, but fingers crossed, so far it’s been quite reasonable,” Key said.
“It is very difficult to tell (where everyone stands in the pecking order). For us it’s really been a case of looking at ourselves, making sure that we were comfortable with the steps that we were making during the test, ticking those boxes … making sure the reliability of the engine installation was critical for us and Mercedes and so on.
“It hasn’t been a bad test, but exactly where everyone is, is of course very difficult to say.”
We will only truly find out in the first day of qualifying at the Bahrain Grand Prix.