McLaren could be sixth in F1 order as Renault reveal huge Austria upgrades

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McLaren is feeling less than comfortable about their place at the front of the midfield ahead of the new Formula 1 season.

Last year the Woking-based squad surprised everyone to claim 'best of the rest' in the Constructors' Championship by a considerable 54 points over Renault.

However, with those who perhaps had an off year in 2019 showing their own signs of being back on form this season, CEO Zak Brown is expecting a huge fight on his hands.

“I do think this year is going to be tougher,” he told Sky Sports this week.

"Racing Point is clearly very quick with what appears to be last year's Mercedes, and one would think it would be quick because it won the championship last year! They're going to be very tough and I think they made the most off-season progress.

"Renault was very quick, Alfa [Romeo] were quick, AlphaTauri put in a very quick time at the end of testing and Williams showed a lot more pace than they did last year.

"So I do think this year is going to be tougher than last year and I could see us being fourth, and I could see us sliding to sixth because others have challenged.

"I think it's going to come down to reliability, drivers continuing to do a good job and team execution because I think there's not much pace difference between the cars.”

Renault's Daniel Ricciardo is equally anticipating a mega duel behind the top three teams.

“I certainly expect to be close,” he recently told the F1 Nation podcast.

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“All we’ve got now is testing back in February, and we kind of had our analysis after the testing and tried to figure out where everyone stands, and all I can say is, the lead midfield car, it was really hard to kind of figure it out if it was us or not.

“It looked like I would say at least three of our midfield teams were all within a tenth."

What will have a big say in Austria is the quality of upgrades most teams are expected to bring, with Renault promising quite the overhaul to the R.S.20.

“The upgrades are coming," team boss Cyril Abiteboul said in a video conference with the media.

“It’s been a huge effort from internal production to get the package from races three, five and six – the initial numbering obviously – from Vietnam, the Netherlands and Barcelona that will be on our car in Austria.

“Those races have obviously not happened, but the performance that was supposed to come will be in Spielberg.”

As for McLaren, however...

"We'll be bringing some toys as often as possible," Brown explained. "But because of the frequency of racing, we've probably been focused more on spares than updates - I think a lot of the teams are because we're going to be doing three races in a row on the trot.

“So we're going to make sure we have all our spares and then of course in Formula 1, to tackle the expense side of the sport we're now limited on upgrades for this year and next year so I think we'll do the best we can within the rules. But it's definitely a new environment.

"Hopefully our car's strong. We were happy with winter testing but that midfield is going to be tighter than ever."