McLaren finally feels like a team on the right path

Sainz and Norris react to McLaren's MCL35 (1:28)

Hear from Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris and ESPN's Nate Saunders after McLaren launched the MCL35. (1:28)

WOKING, U.K - McLaren's 2020 car carries a bold declaration across the front wing -- "A better tomorrow". It's the slogan of team sponsor BAT but it feels like an apt mindset for the famous British team going into this season.

On walking into the McLaren Technology Centre's conference building -- where the team unveiled this year's car, the MCL35 -- it was hard to not to notice an orange slab proudly listing the team's drivers' and constructors' championships. But save for Lewis Hamilton's 2008 drivers' title, the most recent number you can find on there is from the late 1990s.

The MTC feels like the facility of a dominant outfit and the contrast of its state-of-the-art HQ and the results of the past five years are as stark as you can get. The last decade was a frustrating one, which started promisingly but quickly tailed off -- its last win was Jenson Button's at the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix. It has scored a podium finish at just two races since. Its infamous tenure with Honda was the worst spell in its F1 history and forced an early termination of the contract and a switch to Renault power in 2018.

Last year was a turning point. Fernando Alonso had departed and the team went into the season with Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris. The pair struck up an immediate bond which many have dubbed the best bromance in F1 and, more importantly from a team perspective, were both competitive on track. Sainz, especially, was fantastic, enjoying his best F1 season which included a first podium finish at the wild Brazilian Grand Prix. Sainz and Norris have come to epitomise the new attitude at McLaren.

"A lot of credit to our two drivers," company CEO Zak Brown said at the unveiling. "They've brought a lot of energy to our team. McLaren is a fun place to be, it's a fun garage to be in, it's a fun factory to work at."

Off track came further stability, with Andreas Seidl coming in to lead up the F1 outfit, boasting the pedigree of overseeing Porsche's dominance of the World Endurance Championship (the pinnacle of sports car racing) in the last decade. Highly rated technical director James Key was plucked from Toro Rosso and set to work on reestablishing McLaren as a team known for designing competitive cars rather than some of the duds of the 2010s.

Brown feels this is the pair to lead McLaren into the new era of F1 and the exciting opportunity presented by the sweeping rule changes set to come into force next year, which is as close to a clean slate as you can get in this championship.

"It feels a lot better than this time last year," Brown said about the state of his F1 team. "We had James and Andreas joining us but they had not yet joined this time last year. Now I feel like I have my complete Formula One team in place with Andreas leading it. That was who I wanted to run my Formula One team and James was who I wanted to be our technical director, so my role is to get the right people in the right place and give them the right resources, and I think ever since we have started making changes we have accomplished that.

"We had a pretty good car last year that got stronger over the second part of the year -- I put that down to everybody but a lot of it was the leadership from Andreas and when the car got competitive it wasn't a coincidence that it was when he started to get stuck into things.

"Andreas has brought a lot of clarity to how he wants to see the Formula One team run, and I think that has been well received and it's a nice environment to walk around the factory and at the race track - it has a real team feeling."

While 2020 might seem like a year in purgatory for all the teams hoping to master next year's rulebook, Brown sees obvious benefits in McLaren continuing a clear upward trajectory.

"I'm excited, but having said that, the gap to third is still very big in Formula One terms and we have to be realistic that when we try to close that gap, first we have to not go backwards and that itself isn't easy because we have great competition in the midfield. Very pleased, but there is still a long way to go."

While Key will hope to vindicate the hype around him with this year's car, you feel he will be judged more on the car which McLaren takes into the 2021 season, which will already be commanding a significant chunk of his attention. A car which can keep McLaren in fourth position is a good way to justify the positive mood of this launch.

If Brown has his team behind the scenes, he's got a very good one leading the charge. There was no mention of Fernando Alonso in the media session which followed the launch and only a brief portion of time focused on the 2021 driver line-up -- everyone asked said it is too early for that speculation. The focus right now is on keeping the team's position as the lead car of the midfield.

Sainz told ESPN he already feels like this could be the best car he's driven, while Norris comes into this year as a wiser sophomore. The Englishman vowed to be less shy when talking to engineers about what he wants from setups and the car, a natural progression curve for any young driver, while you feel he may switch up the intensity slightly in his intra-team battle with Sainz.

Sainz admitted he faces an odd season -- realistically the best he can do this season is to match the 'best of the rest' finish of 2019. But he echoed the general vibe around the whole launch.

"I like what I'm seeing, I like the project, I like the car," Sainz said. "When we revealed it today I like how tidy it looks and hopefully it's a faster car than last year, and hopefully it is a car that is closer to the top teams."

He then offered a sad reminder of the imbalanced pecking order McLaren will hope is a distant memory this time next year.

"I don't know what I'm going to fight for. I'm going to try my best and if there is a podium opportunity I'll try to take it, if there's an opportunity to finish higher than seventh I'm going to try, but to improve on last year in terms of only positions it's not going to be easy."

McLaren won't be adding '2020' to any of the rolls of honour adorning the walls of the MTC, but it clearly feels confident it will be doing so at some point in the next decade.