Daniel Ricciardo's new McLaren team have been accused of deliberately taking their foot off the pedal to hide their true potential during pre-season testing.
The Australian driver topped the timesheets in the morning sessions of the first two days of testing at Bahrain, with rivals teams impressed by McLaren't innovative solution to a rule change designed to limit rear downforce.
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An F1 edict to limit the size of diffuser strakes at the rear of the car was creatively interpreted by McLaren's aerodynamics team, with the team instead able to increase the size of the strakes by altering the design of their floor.
They were the only team do exploit the design loophole, leaving McLaren technical director James Key pleasantly surprised.
“It’s a normal design idea. I think we are maybe a bit surprised that we are maybe the only team with that,” Key said.
“I think it’s always nice for a team to come out with an idea which is unique, you know? And 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, so full credit to them.
“It’s just one feature of many in an area which changed for this year.
“It was a little bit baby steps to get us to this week and hope that we could be reliable, but fingers crossed, so far it’s been quite reasonable."
In addition to recruiting Ricciardo, McLaren also switched engine suppliers for the 2021 season, from Renault to Mercedes.
Many expected them to be one of the last teams out for testing due to the massive task of redesigning their car to fit the Mercedes power unit, but the fact they were first out on track impressed many who expected a more secretive approach.
However, a report from Sky Sports’ pit-lane expert Ted Kravitz claims McLaren became "spooked" by their early success in testing and decided to back off so they didn't overplay their hand to rival teams.
“It was weird at the test actually, McLaren, they had a very good day one in the dusty conditions and then they had a good day two,” Kravitz told the In The Fast Lane Podcast.
“And then they went all sort of coy and they thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we better not show everything’.
“It’s like they were scared. They spooked themselves and they didn’t want to give anything away so they stopped setting quick times to put everybody off the scent. But they were very happy.
McLaren tipped for big things in 2021
Kravitz even suggested that McLaren could be the second-fastest team behind Red Bull, when the cars line up on the grid for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Monday morning.
“That was them saying globally, everything is looking optimal in the new McLaren," he added.
"There are going to be some doubts about whether they will be even faster than the factory Mercedes team as well. Some people have got McLaren in second behind Red Bull.”
F1 great and former McLaren driver David Coulthard said while testing was positive for the team, he foresees potential issues arising between their star drivers.
Although Ricciardo and McLaren teammate Lando Norris are expected to deliver a lot of fun and excitement, Coulthard predicts it will be tough for the British driver to come up against the more experienced Aussie.
“This is a great test for Lando," Coulthard said.
“In Carlos (Sainz Jr.) he had a quick teammate but also one that was pretty easy going and part of knowing your competitors is knowing your teammate.
“And with Daniel, he’s easy-going off track but he is pretty ruthless on track and has that racer’s heart and edge, which we saw come out when he was alongside Max and Seb.
“It will be a difficult time for Lando.”
Ricciardo should go into the new F1 season high on confidence after a solid final season with Renault in which he secured two podium finishes to the surprise of most good judges.
The Aussie has seven race wins and 31 podium places across his F1 career and Coulthard tips that experience will bring out the best in Norris, who expects to ditch his "good natured" attitude on the track.
“It’s also a great opportunity for him to step up and show he can get his elbows out," Coulthard added.