Changing of the guard: McLaren's epic start to the 2020 F1 season and being the 'next best' team

The McLaren F1 team's drivers in 2020: Lando Norris (left) and Carlos Sainz.
The McLaren F1 team's drivers in 2020: Lando Norris (left) and Carlos Sainz.

• McLaren is having a stellar start to the 2020 F1 season.

• Lando Norris impressing in only his second season.

• Major changes coming at McLaren in 2021.

For more motoring stories, go to

The McLaren team we have seen over the first two races of the season is all-together different than the one that has been competing in Formula 1 for the last several years.

No, they did not undergo significant management changes, nor did they suddenly have an influx of disposable income.

The 2020 version of the team is one that has evolved in the hybrid-era that began in 2014, going from difficult times to finally appearing on the podium. In 2015, when it joined forces with Honda as an engine supplier, the relationship failed to improve on-track performances.

Not even Fernando Alonso with his wicked race craft could lift the team from the doldrums.

In 2017, it announced it was switching to Renault power for 2018 to 2020, and last year, the fruits of the labour began to show.

Good start to 2020

When the lights went out at the Red Bull Ring in Austria two Sundays ago, Lando Norris had a good start to his 2020 campaign by finishing the race in third place. His on-track performances were impressive, and the ideal kick-off McLaren would have wanted.

This past Saturday, at the Styrian Grand Prix held at the same track as the season-opening race, torrential downpours threatened qualifying. Still, Carlos Sainz, the team's other driver, secured a career-best starting position of third place. While he slipped down the order during the race to finish an eventual ninth, Norris managed to secure a fifth-place finish.

This year, the two strongest teams are Mercedes-AMG F1 and Red Bull Racing, but McLaren is suddenly the third-fastest team after two races. And Norris sits third in the drivers' standings behind Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

If the team and its drivers can keep this momentum going, do not be surprised to see them fighting for podium finishes throughout 2020.

WATCH: Lando Norris storms to fifth place on final laps of the Styrian GP

Eye on the future

But things could be looking up even more for McLaren when 2021 comes around. Next year, the team will revert to Mercedes engines after splitting from the supplier at the end of 2014.

When the new agreement kicks in, McLaren will benefit from the most powerful and reliable engine on the grid - the same engine that will power the Mercedes factory team in 2021.

With their aerodynamics in check and a race-winning driver in Daniel Ricciardo joining them next year, McLaren could emerge as the second strongest team after Mercedes in 2021.

READ: A double blow for Ferrari and Hamilton's fist of solidarity: Winners and losers from the Styrian GP

However, the future is bleaker for some.

Sainz will join Ferrari next year as Sebastian Vettel's replacement, but the Scuderia is far off the pace this year. And with the 2021 regulations being carried over to 2022, Sainz will likely see his old team occupying the podium to Ferrari's struggles to make it into the top 10.

In the end, it is the McLaren team that is finding itself near the top of the field; away from the lowly positions pre-2019. And things can (hopefully) only go from better to best.

'Banshee screams'

Wheels24's Janine van der Post says: "Lewis Hamilton might have had a stellar drive and an even more remarkable qualifying session on Saturday ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix, but the midfield battle was where all the action was in Sunday's race. I could barely contain my banshee screams as Lando Norris gave his McLaren horns!

"All week, I had gone back and watched the emotional reaction of the McLaren garage during the season-opening race last week when Lando claimed the first podium result of his career. The hard work of the entire team had finally paid off. 

"McLaren has improved their form and now have cars that are allowing their drivers to gain more points than they could even have thought of in 2019. Norris has exceptional talent, yet he is still so humble. His tenacity on track is admirable, and he is one to look out for, yet he could still sweetly wish his baby sister, who he calls 'Siskins', a happy birthday during his interview."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24