In-form McLaren could regress in the Belgian Grand Prix because the fast Spa-Francorchamps Formula 1 circuit has arguably been mischaracterised and may expose the team’s lingering low-speed weaknesses.

The first and second stages of a three-step upgrade to change “pretty much every single aerodynamic part on the car” appears to have turned around McLaren’s poor start to the season.

Since the first updates arrived in Austria, Lando Norris has qualified inside the top four for the three GPs and finished runner-up to Max Verstappen at Silverstone and last weekend at the Hungaroring.

But team boss Andrea Stella has warned that McLaren may not continue its run of form at the Belgian venue for the sprint race weekend, since its characterisation as a high-speed track overlooks how time is gained during a lap.

He points to three decisive low-speed corners as being the key to a strong performance at Spa. However, McLaren’s recent development has mainly given a boost in medium- to high-speed turns.

Stella said: “Even if Spa is normally mentioned as one of the high-speed tracks, in reality, the highest-speed corner, which is corner 10 [Pouhon] is flat in qualifying.

“There's a lot of lap time in corner one [La Source] which is [50mph], in corner eight [Les Combes] which is [60mph] and in the last chicane, which is [55mph].

“So, I don't want to repeat myself, but I go with some care because in these three corners, at the moment, we see that we lose time. So, I think that's where we are.

“It will be also a sprint event. So, in addition to the outright performance, it will be important how rapidly you adapt your car to the demand of the track.

“Spa is also a very demanding track in terms of understanding, for instance, your ride heights, because with Eau Rouge, you can't run too low, because otherwise you would have problems under the car.

“So how rapidly you can set up your car can make a difference for the entire week's performance.”

Oscar Piastri at Hungarian GP 2023

The final part of its major development package was scheduled for Budapest but then eventually delayed owing to extended design and production timelines. It could debut this weekend at Spa.

While McLaren is confident that its upgrades have generated more load and in turn improved tyre management, Norris reckons the MCL60 is still not suited to his driving style at low speeds.

He said: “The car still doesn't handle anywhere like what I would want from a car. If you said, ‘what do you need from a perfect car?’, I feel like it's really far away from what I want.

“It's a combination of targeting slow-speed corners and load, and at the same time handling.

“If we can improve both of these together, that's already pretty much the biggest step we need and we'll probably take away any weaknesses we have and then we'll just be strong.”

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