Can McLaren finish in the top three this season?

McLaren is one of the most historic teams in Formula One, winning eight Constructors’ Championships, as well as providing the car for 12 Drivers’ Championships. In recent years the team’s fortunes have really turned around after what was a difficult period in the highly anticipated Honda partnership that didn’t turn out the way they and many hoped it would.

Although McLaren has improved in their performance level’s in recent years, they are still some distance away from Mercedes, despite picking up a podium with Carlos Sainz at Brazil in 2019, and their second podium in three races with Lando Norris in Austria at the opening race of the 2020 season.

Red Bull look strong again this year and are a safe bet for the second spot in the Championship, with the traditional Mercedes challengers of Ferrari looking lost with a car that is nowhere of the levels expected from the prancing horse. At times they have looked like the fifth-best team on the grid, despite Charles Leclerc massively outperforming that car to claim two podiums so far.

The midfield in Formula One is very close nowadays, something that everyone is loving to see, but is a nightmare for those that enjoy making predictions because a lock-up going into turn one could be the difference between a sixth-place finish and a sixteenth place finish.

I think the biggest factor in whether McLaren will finish third or not is the situation with Racing Point. The ‘Pink Panthers’ was accused and subsequently fined and deducted points for ‘copying’ the brake ducts of the 2019 Championship winning Mercedes, something that has been outlawed for this season. The most recent development is that Renault has withdrawn their appeal over the penalty that ‘Tracing Point’ as they have become jokingly known as received but I think there still might be some development in this case later in the season if Racing Point finishes ahead of Renault.

Something that we aren’t really seeing from the McLaren driver pair of Norris and Sainz this season, is the strong friendship that those two drivers have. There are very obvious reasons behind this with restrictions in what they can do, with no real media work being done apart from the usual pre and post-race interviews.

Sainz is also moving to Ferrari next season, and while the chance to move to one of the most historic teams in Formula One is amazing for the Spanish driver, and at the time of the deal being confirmed, Ferrari still looked to be in contention for the title, albeit a little behind Mercedes. This move may have just slightly changed the McLaren thinking for this season, with the team possibly focusing more on Lando Norris after it was announced he would be joined by current Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo for next season.

The pace McLaren have shown so far has been strong, but it hasn’t been eye-opening and at times you think they are heading backwards instead of forwards. The biggest thing that McLaren seems to be lacking is consistent race pace. If they can develop a car that can be competitive on all tracks then they would obviously be fighting with Mercedes, but if they can keep going in a forward direction, I can see no reason why they won’t finish in the top five at the very least.

It is all going to depend on whether Ferrari can completely turn around their fortunes in the latter stages of the season, and if there is any further action taken against Racing Point. One pace along I think fourth place is most likely for McLaren, but another podium or two later in the season can completely change things and leave the Woking-based outfit in good stead heading into the Mercedes partnership starting next season.