That’s because the team’s rebuilding plan, formulated mainly by Stella’s predecessor Andreas Seidl and technical director James Key, is focused on infrastructure upgrades, and in particular the new windtunnel.
McLaren has for many years rented time in the Toyota facility in Cologne, with all the obvious logistical issues inherent in having staff travelling back and forward and spread across two countries.
An on-site state-of-the-art tunnel, built to current specifications, will have obvious advantages – and only Aston Martin will have a similar brand new facility on its doorstep.
However, the tunnel just the highest profile part of the programme, which includes an upgraded simulator and new manufacturing infrastructure.
McLaren had to be in a healthy financial position in order to green light such an investment, and when the plan was agreed a couple of years ago things were starting to go in the right direction. COVID caused a few delays, but now the pieces are starting to fall into place, and the tunnel will finally be operational later this year.
McLaren finished fifth last season, losing out to Alpine, but there’s little doubt that had Daniel Ricciardo made a more representative contribution to the total the team should have been fourth.
That’s where Stella sees McLaren in 2023, but with its form relative to those ahead improving as new parts come through the system.
Photo by: McLaren
“I think it’s fair to say that over the course of the season, we would like to establish ourselves as part of the top four,” he says. “We know realistically that with the top three teams, this may be like potential just to be in the fourth best car over the course of the season.
“We are realistic in the very short term, there’s good developments already in the pipeline, that should land at the trackside very soon in season, this should allow us to get to take a decent step forward, we are not naive.
“We know that pretty much everything will be staying the same with developments on so on. And so like I said, we also add some more high-level development.”
Stella stressed that the focus is on the latter part of this season and beyond as the new facilities start to pay off.
“Going overall in the team, I would like to remind you of the importance of getting the new windtunnel to come to fruition, which should have been around mid-year,” he said. “That should be a step change for many reasons, not only the fact that it improves your methodologies.
“And there’s also the new simulator as well coming. We have a new manufacturing facility. So large investments that should come to fruition mid-year. And these should be an extra boost in this race to become top four over the season, and hopefully race for more in the medium term.”
Stella conceded that the tunnel will come on stream too late to have an impact on the MCL60 – with time so restricted by the rules, by then the focus of the aero department will be on next year’s car.
Even that will have been initially developed in the Cologne tunnel, and such a transition in the middle of a car’s gestation will have to be carefully managed.
“The benefit of having the infrastructure is a long way and it pays off for a long time,” said Stella. “Having the new infrastructure come to fruition in the middle of the year, realistically, we should start seeing it in the 2024 car.
Photo by: McLaren
“It will be very difficult to influence the ’23 because by then we will already be pretty much fully focused on the ’24. So let’s say maybe 50% of the benefit on the start of the ’24 and hopefully 100% of the benefit on the developments of the ’24 in the year.”
Having your own tunnel is not just about the logistics. While it obviously represents a huge capital investment, and costs a lot to operate, renting someone else’s is not a cheap exercise either.
“There’s more associated with the lack of a windtunnel than we may think,” said Stella. “For instance, there’s quite a significant fee to pay for the windtunnel when we rent it. By having our own, we save quite a significant amount of resources that we want to reinvest in expanding the team.
“So if I consider the lack of windtunnel and ultimately the size of the workforce, I think McLaren have been doing a competitive job in the past. Allow me to use these two factors to say that we are very happy with what’s happening on the technical side.
“And now it’s more up to us to provide the technical side with the right equipment and with the right team power to actually be able to compete at the front.”
It remains to be seen how much of a step the team can take in 2024 and heading into 2025, once everything will be on stream and fully integrated into the process.
However it’s clear that McLaren has to join the fight at the front if it is to hold onto Lando Norris over the longer term.
“We know that Lando will be happy, if we are happy,” said Stella. “If we are happy with the development of the car, with the development of the team, then his happiness, his willingness to stay with the team will come as a natural consequence.”