If you get into the insides of the Woking and the McLaren installations and ask why is the team a race winner after 9 years of struggling through the back of the grid, Team Principal Andreas Seidl will answer that, neither he nor CEO Zak Brown, are totally responsible for finding the McLaren team fighting for P3 in the championship with Ferrari and giving Mercedes and Red Bull an occasional run for their money.
"I'm very happy with how James [Key], Andrea [Stella] and Piers [Thynne] are leading the departments on the technical side, but also in terms of the human leadership. That's for me key in order to make the final steps as well in the next years," the German says.
Having joined the team in 2019, technical director James Key has played an essential part in transforming McLaren into a competitive team inside the category, aiming to a consecutive third place in constructors’ standings, carrying with two P9s scored on 2015 and 2017 on the team’s shoulders.
"It was opening up the process a bit more, such that we had one project rather than multiple projects and trying to converge into one.”
"The team was absolutely open to change. It was things like integrating our groups more. Looking at the car as a whole rather than individual functions, was something that I spotted was different to what I was used to.”
For Key, it’s very clear, the path that leads the improvement of McLaren is marked by authenticity in terms of teamwork, commitment, determination, and identity.
"Also, it was being very open with stuff, and the blame cultures, etc. It was not that they were necessarily an issue when we arrived, but definitely, we did not want to have them at all. So people were free to talk and attack issues in a very mature and open way. Target setting, which was definitely missing. We needed to have a blueprint for what we're trying to achieve.”
"And whilst there were the sort of individual targets in certain areas, bringing that together, again, in a whole car sense, was necessary. I think from a cultural perspective, there was definitely some work to do there just to try and reset the way we want to work."
Although the progression and development inside McLaren needed to be full of self-criticism, Key assures looking at the competition in the race to become the best in F1 helped the British team accomplish the target of development and comparison required to compete in the pinnacle of motorsport.
"The process itself was kind of stepping back and looking at what the weaknesses of the car were, and where we needed to improve. So we did a lot of competitor analysis. We tried to understand exactly what we were good at, what we weren't so good at, and why is that the case? Is it methodology? Is it the equipment we've got? Is it our knowledge? These were all really fundamental questions."
"And then we kind of built it up from there and gave ourselves a very clear objective. It was step-by-step, trying to address these weaknesses, hang on to our strengths, and build a much more complete package."
Key admitted the MCL35M wasn’t built overnight. The success the team is now facing on its way back to the top isn’t an out of the blue moment, there has been lots of work since Zak Brown took over the restructuring side in McLaren, in 2019.
"It was step-by-step, trying to address these weaknesses, hang on to our strengths, and build a much more complete package. That's been a process. It's gone from 2019, which had already started before we got there with the 2019 car, and developing that in a way which was conducive to a new step and 2020.”
"Obviously then we had homologation and COVID and other things which kind of interrupted the process a bit, and then to a certain extent the same thing again in 2021. So it was a fairly all-encompassing approach.”
"I think there wasn't one thing that you go and you think: right yes, the gearbox needs to look different or something. It was more a sort of a big picture car approach that everyone needed to kind of grasp and then work together to solve.”
"That's still a work in progress. But it's definitely working quite well now."
The Briton concluded by talking about how McLaren is facing the revival of the historical team in such a preview of the big regulation changes that will come in 2022, and how they are working to make sure the process of improvement stays.
"I think a lap time is made of very different faculties. Sensitivity, sense of gravity, the response of the engineers. Certainly a lot of details. For example, if there's understeer or terrible braking stability, it doesn't matter if it's this year or the next, we're going to be definitely fighting the same sort of battles."
"The questions become far more complex and deeper but the headlines still stand, the philosophy is in the beliefs and it's fairly relevant for me."