Daniel Ricciardo’s chances for a strong 2021 have been helped by his McLaren team finding a way around a new rule.

The increased competitiveness of McLaren drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris at Formula One’s Bahrain pre-season test has renewed focus on the car’s unique diffuser.

According to data compiled by the official Formula One website, the McLaren can all but match Mercedes on short-run pace, behind only Red Bull.

That’s a step forward for McLaren, who have been on the improve since finishing second last in 2017 after a disastrous final season with Honda.

Ricciardo finished seventh on the final day of testing, but many of those ahead of him set their times using softer tyres which provide more grip, meaning McLaren’s pace is better than the headline times might indicate.

“It’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing but we can be confident we have a decent car,” said Norris. “We have things to work on for sure, not everything’s perfect, but I’m happy and excited to get started.

Daniel Ricciardo (right) with McLaren teammate Lando Norris.

“I think it’s gone well. I want to say we’re maybe a little more confident than we were last year.

“In terms of starting off with a good step and on the right foot, I think we’ve managed to do that and we have some good things to work on when we come back in two weeks.”

McLaren are the only team that appear to have taken advantage of the wording of a new rule designed to cut downforce at the rear of the car.

Daniel Ricciardo in action for McLaren during the Bahrain test.

The length of the strakes on the rear diffuser were supposed to be 50mm shorter this year, as the sport’s governing body tried to reduce downforce by approximately 10 per cent.

The centre strakes on the McLaren are longer than those on their rivals, which the team’s technical boss James Key says is the result of hard work back at the team’s base in Surrey.

“I think it’s always nice for a team to come out with an idea which is unique,” he said.

“Credit fully goes to our aero department and the guys in the rear aero group for realising that there was an opportunity there to use the new regulations in such a way.”

Key admits he was expecting other teams to have similar designs, and wouldn’t be shocked if they were now trying to copy McLaren’s idea.

Lando Norris driving for McLaren during the pre-season test in Bahrain.

“It’s a normal design idea,” he said. “I think we are maybe a bit surprised that we are maybe the only team with that.

“These particular surfaces are fairly straightforward so you could say between¬† three and five weeks between taking the picture and putting it on your car, if you really wanted to push it through.”

Former F1 designer Gary Anderson, who worked for both Jordan and Stewart in the 1990s, noted that simply copying the diffuser design on its own wouldn’t necessarily provide performance gains for rival teams.

“Under my reading of the regulations it is completely legal and there’s no trickery or loophole involved,” he wrote in a column for The Race.

“No individual item will be the make or break of any of these cars, it will be the sum of all the parts working together that will make one package stand out from the other.

“So just going off copying an individual concept will not always bring the rewards that you think it should.”

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