Mclaren, What has Gone Wrong?

By Fortis @Hamfosi44

As a kid who grew up in the Caribbean, it is somewhat strange that I find myself to be such a fan of motorsports, mainly F1. If you know anything about the Caribbean, our main sporting interests are football, cricket, track & field and basketball. Contrary to what many may believe, I did not start to watch F1 in 2007. I was an occasional viewer back in 1996, but I started to follow religiously in 1998 and that was influenced by my mother (women do watch F1 you know).

There was no one thing that made me a fan of the team, it was everything. The cars had that cool factor that I liked, Ron Dennis had that ‘God’ like persona that just resonated with me and then there was the original flying Finn, Mika Hakkinen. He was cool, calm and blindingly quick. The package was perfect and from then on I was a Mclaren fan.

During that time, I have witnessed both the highs and the lowest of lows. The highs, Hakkinen’s back to back triumph in 1998 and 1999. The duel at Spa with Schumacher in 2000, which culminated in one of the greatest overtaking manoeuvres in the history of the sport. Zonta was the perfect example of what it means to be ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’. In the press conference after, the share joy on Mika’s face was brilliant to watch. Kimi’s superb drive from 17th to win the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. And Hamilton’s last corner move to seal the 2008 title. The lows; China 2007 and the despairing look on Ron’s face on the pitwall, not to mention a dejected Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen’s exploding front suspension on the last lap of the German grand prix (the onboard footage showing the vibration on the front right tire and suspension, was enough to make my eyes water) and probably for me the lowest of them all, the sight of a crest fallen Mika Hakkinen knelt over crying in the bushes after crashing out of the lead on lap 17 of the 1999 San Marino grand prix at Imola. This man was my hero and to see him in that state was very hard to watch. Just to name a few.

Mclaren await a new era of success

Mclaren await a new era of success

But now this once proud and prodigious team has lost its aura. Since winning the last race of the 2012 season in Brazil, the Woking based outfit has only secured two podium finishes, which came at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. During that time, they have lost their young protégé Lewis Hamilton to championship rivals Mercedes, who have now emerged as the dominate team, winning the last 2 WDC for Hamilton and WCC titles. Since then, the team has gone through a myriad of changes resulting in upheaval in team leadership, technical staff, major sponsors, engine suppliers and driver line-ups. Sergio Perez was brought in as Hamilton’s replacement, but lasted only one season before he was subsequently replaced by Kevin Magnussen who himself was replaced by former driver and double world champion Fernando Alonso (who if I am honest, I was rather shocked to see return, given what transpired in 2007). Martin Whitmarsh was replaced by Eric Boullier and Ron Dennis has re-taken control of the reigns.

After a dreadful 2013 and ‘14 campaign, many believed that the rekindling of their partnership with Honda, a partnership that dominated the sport from 1988 to 1991, would see the Woking outfit return to the upper echelons of the sport. To say things have not gone to plan would be an understatement. What we have seen, can simply be described as a disaster. During testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, Fernando Alonso was involved in a rather suspicious accident, which resulted in the Spaniard being airlifted to hospital with reports that he had suffered a concussion. This in turn forced him to miss the opening round of the 2015 campaign. Kevin Magnussen, who replaced him in Australia, did not even make the start of the race as his engine literally blew up on the formation lap. They racked up grid penalties after grid penalties due to the consistent failures of their Honda power unit and who can forget Alonso’s outburst over the radio during the Japanese Grand Prix? “GP2 engine!!”

Though I am not a fan of either of their current drivers, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, I still remain a fan of the team and it pains me to see such a great institution rejoicing at making it through to the final qualifying round or scoring a solitary point. This is not the Mclaren that I fell in love with back in 1998. The name McLaren no longer strikes fear into its competitors, it is now a mere shadow of itself so much so that many find Eric Boullier’s musing of how much they have improved performance on the PU side and that they now believe they have the 3rd best chassis on the grid, as comical. However Ron Dennis has remained resolute in his belief that McLaren will be champions again. Speaking in a BBC Radio 5 programme, he once again reiterates this belief;

Glory Days

Glory Days

"I honestly believe that the next World Champions after Mercedes will be McLaren. We'll get to that goal before other people.

"It is challenging but I have a firm belief in the technical competence of our people and a firm belief in Honda."

Dennis is confident McLaren will be aided in their quest by Formula 1's new 2017 regulations, which include wider tyres, more downforce and plans to close the performance gap between engines. He also went on to say;

"The 2017 regulations level the playing field and it is enough time for us to catch up with Honda, so I think we'll have a good chance next year," he said.

"I think we can win races. I don't want to predict World Championships but I do feel that dethroning Mercedes-Benz is going to be a challenge for everybody and I have reason to genuinely believe we'll get there before anybody else."

I don’t actually believe that the next world champion after Mercedes will be McLaren, but I do believe that with Ron steering the ship McLaren will return to winning ways, because when Ron speaks, we all listen.

So here’s hoping, that we will indeed see McLaren back at the front sooner - rather than later.

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