McLaren technical director, James Key, has conceded that he did not think the 2022 cars would evolve as quickly as they have done.
The new technical regulations this year are the biggest change Formula 1 has seen in 40 years, and the reintroduction of ground effect aerodynamics was bound to throw the cat amongst the pigeons.
Ferrari sporting director, Laurent Mekies, predicted that the cars would be level on pace with the 2021 cars by the start of 2023.
The machines last year were already around a second adrift of the pace of the 2020 cars, and as the engineers became more familiar with the concept, the improvements were bound to be massive.
What was also anticipated was that, because a lot of the changes were unprecedented, there would be a larger gap than usual between the quickest teams and those at the back.
This is because some teams were going to get it very right, and some very wrong, but upgrades throughout the season would eventually see everyone begin to catch up and bunch together.
McLaren, for example, started the year as one of the slowest on the grid, failing to score points in Bahrain, but they are now in the fight for fourth in the championship with Alpine.
Mercedes too have brought themselves into the fight with Red Bull and Ferrari in recent rounds after a slow start of their own.
At the Italian Grand Prix last weekend, Charles Leclerc’s pole lap was six tenths of a second slower than that of Valtteri Bottas last year, which has caught Key out.
“What has surprised me is that, in theory, with the same chassis performance, the 2022 cars should be two seconds slower than the 2021 cars, but that hasn’t been the case,” he said in a McLaren Q&A.
“Cars are getting very close to ’21 performance levels now, and some have already achieved it, which reflects the quality of the teams we have in this sport.
“I suppose I am a little surprised at how two teams have been able to find that extra bit of performance compared to everyone else.
“It was a tighter field at the beginning of the season, but it’s beginning to stretch out now, and I have to say, Ferrari and Red Bull have done an excellent job of exploiting more.
“It shows that even within a cost cap, if you’re a big team with an extensive infrastructure and a lot of knowledge and methodology built over many years, it still very much counts.
“It’s a level playing field in terms of the budget we’ve got, but it’s not in terms of where we’re all coming from – that gives us an excellent reference point to aspire to.”
McLaren are 18 points adrift of Alpine in the battle for fourth heading into the final six rounds of the season.