McLaren have unveiled their new car with the ambition of continuing the progress they showed last year.
In 2019, they were the fastest team behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and finished fourth, two places better than in 2018.
Team boss Andreas Seidl said: “It is important to keep the positive momentum up and move forward as a team.
“It is a reset. I am very happy with development. We can be quite optimistic but we have to be realistic as well.”
The new MCL35 retains McLaren’s historic papaya orange colour scheme, re-adopted in 2017, but has switched it for a matt finish, following a trend set by Red Bull and Ferrari.
An evolution of last year’s design, the car has a noticeably narrow nose and pinched rear end in the pursuit of maximum possible aerodynamic downforce.
McLaren continue with their youthful driver line-up of Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Briton Lando Norris, both of whom impressed greatly in 2019.
Sainz, who in Brazil last November scored McLaren’s first podium for five years, said: “We have managed to put together a better car. I have the feeling everything is coming together a lot better. We have a positive momentum and we want to carry that forward.”
Norris, who was an impressive debutant in 2019, said: “It is a base. It was made last year. All our comments and discussions as been put into this. It is a lot more of my car. We have had the input of making this, so it feels a bit more my baby.
“I was pooping myself a lot last year, especially at this point, whereas now I am lot more confident and more relaxed and that just prepares me better for the season.”
No Monaco move for Norris
Norris said he had moved closer to the McLaren factory in Surrey, rather than take the common route of F1 drivers settled in the sport of moving to Monaco to save tax.
“I’m firmly set in the UK,” he said. “I have changed place, even closer to McLaren. I timed it the other day – it took me three minutes 20 seconds to get from here to my new place. That’s driving within the speed limit.”
He had previously lived in Guildford, a 25-minute drive from the factory.
Norris said: “I like going to London. I can be with my friends and have a lot of fun. If I move to Monaco, I’m not going to enjoy things at all.
“My enjoyment takes over everything else at the moment and is more crucial for how I want to be and how I want to live life.”
Norris developed a large following on social media in his debut year for his light-hearted approach, but he said he was going to tone that down this year after some misinterpreted it to mean he was not serious about his job.
“I’ll still be who I am, I’ll still do everything I do and have fun and still make jokes,” he said.
“But there are times where sometimes maybe I need to, not shift my focus because I still worked hard… but in the outside world, things can get portrayed quite differently from what I know and see from doing myself.
“A lot of people see me make jokes and whatever. And therefore they turn and put a lot of blame for mistakes I do on me having fun – and them seeing me look like I’m not focused compared to other drivers.”
Sainz eyeing new contract
Seidl said he was happy with both drivers and he saw “no reason” to change them in the future.
While Norris is on a long-term deal with McLaren, Sainz said he was keen to extend his contract beyond the end of 2020.
“It is not a secret I am very happy here in McLaren and there have been some things going on in the background,” he said.
“We have started to talk already, but at the same time we take it easy as there is no rush at all.”
What about the car?
It is the first car fully produced by McLaren under Seidl, who joined in May last year, and new technical director James Key, who started in April and was previously at Toro Rosso.
Seidl added: “Everyone has the same ambitious targets. We have to focus on ourselves.
“We are all racers. We all love the sunrises at race tracks. I’m looking forward to going on track again. We have only six days of testing, so it is important to get some decent mileage. We have done our homework. I feel ready.
“There are a lot of things that make us optimistic, but at the same time we have to be realistic [about] what is achievable from one year to the next.”
McLaren will face stiff competition in the upper midfield, with a group of teams targeting their fourth place. Chief among those will be the factory Renault team, who supply engines to McLaren.
McLaren Racing chief executive officer Zak Brown said: “The gap to third is still very big in F1 terms. We have to be realistic, we hope to close that gap. The first thing we have to do is not go backwards, which is not easy as we have a lot of competition.”
Key added: “The medium-term target is to maintain our position and close the gap and build on that.”
‘Vietnam is not being raised yet as a potential issue’
Brown also said F1 teams were keeping a close eye on Vietnam following the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix over the coronavirus outbreak.
The sport is set to make its debut in the country, which borders China, on 5 April with a street race in the capital Hanoi.
“I spoke with Chase [Carey, the F1 chief executive] yesterday about China and he was giving me a heads up before the initial announcement,” Brown said.
“The wellbeing of McLaren and the greater world is of the utmost importance. Vietnam is not being raised yet as a potential issue but it is very near by. We are going to monitor the situation and we would never do anything that puts our staff at risk.
“This is a new situation for all of us. It is unforeseen. Unheard of. I know some races have been cancelled in the past but not what we are facing here.
“When we know more, it will be the same for everyone. It is a terrible situation for the world. Hopefully it gets resolved because other things such as sport don’t matter when it comes to situations like that.
“All the teams will feel the hit but money is replaceable – people aren’t.
“Hopefully it gets solved and we react accordingly. If there is a month off, there is a month off. It is a very fluid situation.”
Pre-season testing starts in Spain on 19 February, with the first grand prix in Melbourne, Australia, on 13-15 March.