McLaren technical director James Key revealed the team is acutely aware it faces a no-win scenario when taking the decision as for when to shift focus to its 2022 car.
Next year, Formula 1 will enter a radically new era of design, with cars built to completely new aerodynamic specifications.
Usually, teams with the resources available would pour funds into the development of both cars simultaneously but, with a budget cap introduced for the first time this year, the approach is no longer possible.
Although no team is likely to continue major development work past the summer break, there are differences up and down the paddock as to when teams will sideline the current cars altogether, with either this season or next to be compromised depending on timing.
Notably, Haas halted their development for 2021 in January and Ferrari has since followed suit with a 90-95 per cent focus now on next year, although the Scuderia will still bring small upgrades to future races.
Asked about the fine balancing act, Key said: “I guess it’s, given the circumstances, an obvious question to answer knowing how much work we’ve got for next year and the fact that there is a very tight field around where we are, but it’s good in that there are several answers to it I think and there are several ways of doing this.
“But clearly you are going to compromise something by going one route or the other so I think you’ve just got to be pragmatic really.
“What we can see is a 2022 car is such a different kind of thing, there is so much work to understand fully what these cars are going to be like that naturally there has got to be an ongoing project in the background there somewhere so it is never a case of one or the other.
“But when it comes to finishing one and entirely concentrating on the other, that is something that we are monitoring along the way really."
After four races, McLaren holds a slender five-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors' championship 'fight for third' but with the Scuderia now focussed on next year, the value of further major development on the MCL35M is questionable.
However, suggesting a continuation of development, Key added: “Our car isn’t finished yet, there is a little bit more work to do for sure.
"We’ve only done four races of a 23 race season so it seems horribly early to be calling a day but of course, there comes a point where you have to switch everything over and concentrate on '22.
“Deadlines will come quickly. As soon as you’re over the August break that is when your definition period really kicks in and you’ve got to finalise your architecture and the direction you want to take on certain major parts of the car.
“It’s a matter of months but in those months I think the balancing act is going to be the key thing and we will take it race by race with how we progress with that.”
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