Perhaps being one of the most successful teams on the grid, a lot were expected from this team in each and every season of Formula 1. But it’s surprising to note that this team had last won the constructors championship way back in 1998 and the drivers championship in the 2008 season. Nevertheless they have emerged as the strong contenders for both the titles in each and every season of Formula 1 post the 1998 season and often missing the title by handful of points. Experts say lack of continuity is an issue with this team but how long before they clinch the titles?
If we go down the history books, We can find a lot about this team, perhaps their dominant years were during the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s when they challenged Williams for both the titles and like now they often lost the title even then. When a team constantly emerge as the contenders for more than a couple of seasons, it’s obvious that the expectations will be high on this team as they are the first of the rest to challenge the title but to remain as challengers for more than a decade as such, there seems to be something wrong with this team at least in their fundamental approach but if we take a closer look at the history books, one can point out to mere luck than anything else.
But again, to what extent can we blame the luck?
A bit of History:
It was in 1998 when Mclaren won the constructors championship, it was widely expected that they defend their title for the next season but unfortunately due to the Mechanical failures, the constructors championship slipped away while fortunately for Hakkinen, the drivers championship remained with him. From the year 2000, it was more of a decline for this team as they couldn’t keep up with Ferrari who bounced back with a successful partnership of Schumacher and Brawn. Each year, it was hyped by the team that they would be in the championship fight, of course it is common with most of the teams but Mclaren seemed to have an X-Factor in the form of Newey and Dennis. The team was forced to deal with a major blow when Hakkinen announced his retirement which ended one of most exciting partnership of a driver and the team (although Ferrari later had an amazing attachment with Schumacher). Mclaren were expected to struggle from the 2003 season because of the Hakkinen issue. Fortunately for them, Kimi Raikkonen filled in the shoes of his fellow national and the team were looking to be on track with the first two grand prix of the season looking very promising for them as both Kimi and Coulthard clinched their first wins of the season but as the year progressed, the performance of the car wasn’t upto the mark and they lost out heavily to their rivals. Things turned even worse in the 2004 season when they finished fifth in the constructors standings which was their worst performance ever since the 1983 season. Although things improved significantly for the 2005 season where Coulthard was replaced by Montoya, they still couldn’t get the championship but were close to clinching both the titles and the next two seasons were more about controversies with the 2006 season saw the team losing Montoya while they were rocked with spygate scandal in the year 2007 which forced the team to be excluded from the championship points. 2008 season saw the team fight for championships and Lewis Hamilton managed to win the drivers championship after nearly a decade for this team. The 2009 season started off in a wrong note where they were off the pace to the pacesetters and were also given a three race suspended ban. Things improved for the next two seasons and they were mostly catching up with the pacesetters and emerged as the firm challengers for the respective titles but only for Red Bull to walk away quite comfortably. In 2012, in what turned out to be an unpredictable season, Mclaren emerged as one of the many contenders for both the titles but due to issues with pit-stop, reliability and Button’s form, they couldn’t capture any title.
A bit indepth look at the above situations:
Reliability is one word that really kills this team, they had reliability issues through the last decade and even the likes of Newey couldn’t really produce a machine which could overcome the basic issues such as reliability and downforce. MP4-18 was tipped to be the radical car but was never really put into action as it failed crash tests and was tipped to have major reliability issues on the long run. This is the reason the team ran with MP4-17D which was the D-Developed version of MP4-17 for the 2003 season. The team’s failure on track was due to an year old car and this didn’t really inspire confidence on its drivers. Hakkinen’s decision to retire was also a bit of surprise for this team as they needed continuity especially when the results weren’t in their favor and this is what all the teams would do that is to look for continuity. When Newey left the team, things broke loose at Mclaren and even the mighty respected Dennis couldn’t save the team from its impending danger. Montoya decided to leave the team midway through the 2006 season but the biggest controversy was in 2007 when the needless spygate scandal took place. There had so much debate on this as to who exactly was to blame but then again that was not the sort of thing one would want from an experienced campaigner as Mclaren. The team although were excluded from the constructors championship in 2007 and were slapped with heavy fines, they managed to break the shield and came out strong in 2008 where Hamilton took the charge and won them the drivers title but again due to a non performing teammate, McLaren lost out on the constructors championship. We are not going to blame Heikki here but when Heikki was signed for McLaren, it did raise few eyebrows as Heikki was known for pace but not known for his consistency. When the team wanted to make a strong return in 2008, they should have gone for someone with more experience rather than an relatively inexperienced driver. Perhaps the only reason they were so back in the 2009 championship fight was due to the reason that they had to delay the development of their 2009 challenger because of their championship fight in 2008 and this mean that they had to start the 2009 season on the backfoot and had to play a catch up game. 2009 season was more important to the team because it had a massive regulation changes and either it should have been a consensual decision to delay the development of 2009 challenger or it should have been a natural delay in their development. Nevertheless they came back strong in the 2010 season where they gave a tough fight to the Red Bull team on both the championships. But as the year progressed, Red Bull were emerging as the clear favorites with only Alonso having an outside chance in the last race of the season for the drivers title. Things didn’t look any different for the 2011 season as Red Bull continued to dominate further and Mclaren again emerging as the best of the rest but clearly there was so much difference between the teams and it looked as if McLaren despite having the resources couldn’t match the power of Newey and his designs. 2012 was an unpredictable season for all the teams and by now, we have seen many articles which blamed the Mclaren team for their reliability issues as well the pitstop mistakes. The Mclaren form was patchy to say the least but it also depended on the team’s reliability issue which was so severe and had a massive impact on both the championships.
The Dennis Touch:
Dennis was the sole person to be responsible for the McLaren’s growth, He was instrumental in the team’s growth and turned a team which went on no direction into a front running team. Dennis was known to be business minded and although he had his own flaws, he knew the secret recipe to success. He hired John Barnard in 1980 based on his results in the United States and the success stories floated in just 4 years with the introduction of MP4/2. Business tactics of Dennis were well known and we can keep on repeating this as he has shown it in the past on numerous occasions. Dennis approached Honda at the time the supplier were having issues with Williams on various nodes and Dennis tactfully agreed to various agreements made by Honda and this created a winning streak of close to 5 seasons. But during this tenure, he faced criticisms of not acting as a pacifier when the cold war broke between his drivers. The infamous Senna-Prost-Dennis controversy could have been avoided and could have been dealt in a better way. Dennis approached Mercedes in 1994 and despite having the initial teething issues in their first season in 1995, the deal between Mercedes and McLaren continues even now and it’s one of the most highly successful business partnerships in the history of Formula 1.
One of the mysterious deals that Dennis had signed with and is much talked about even now was that of Adrian Newey’s contract. Bobby Rahal had almost signed Newey and lured him into Jaguar but the last moment talks with Newey and Dennis ensured that Newey’s contract was extended and this hurt the reputation on Rahal in a big way. The exact details of that deal wasn’t revealed to the people.
The driver’s controversy in 2007 erupted in a big way apart from that spygate scandal that they faced during that season and people wondered whether Dennis had lost his touch. It was only in 2009 that Dennis had announced his intention to step down to pursue his other interests.
Despite despite being a controversial figure, was an inspirational to many. His business deals had lifted plenty of eyebrows as some of his decisions created many waves across the F1 Fraternity. He had his flaws but the amount of contribution he made to his team was immense.
McLaren hasn’t won a single title under Martin Whitmarsh and it’s very disappointing for sure. But it’s also important to know that Whitmarsh was part of McLaren from 1989 where he joined the team as the Head of the Operations trackside before being elevated to the post of Managing Director in 1997 and was subsequently elevated to the position of CEO in 2004. He knows the team inside out and was known to be spearhead in some of the team’s decision even before Dennis had stepped down.
It is arguable that no one could come close to Ron Dennis and that Whitmarsh and co are struggling to come to the terms with a loss of a big players in the team but Dennis and Newey was tipped to be an exciting prospect which obviously couldn’t translate into results and it was very visible that something was lacking in the team. Reliability issues had caused the team a big hurdle throughout the early 2000’s and the team seemed to suffer a major blow in each and every season it competed in.
Although loss of Dennis is a huge a factor, Whitmarsh and co are highly capable of leading the team to the spotlight as being proved for the last three seasons.
Lack of Consistency:
Once again if we look back at this team especially in the last decade, It can be argued but the real loss of form for this team is the fact they lacked continuity from the loss of Hakkinen. The whole fundamental letdown was the lack of continuity which had a huge upset in design approach of the season to come. They had developed a huge hype around a chassis which never really managed to hit the tracks during the race weekend and this was down to the fact multiple designers were working on multiple projects and the design philosophy took a massive hit across the projects. 2002 was a year when McLaren raced with MP4-17 which had a design flaw and the team which understood the need for an aggressive car for its next season decided to hire another designer chief in the form of Mike Coughlan to assist Adrian Newey and especially in the designs of MP4-18/MP4-19. The new car failed crash tests and thus was aborted without even being raced on track and thus MP4-19 was born to handle the flaws of MP4-18 and Newey called it a debugged version. But even it had some design flaws forcing the developers to bring out another version which promised to be radically redesigned version of the MP4-19 chassis.
Close to three years were lost in the design and development of the cars which had far too many flaws and this might be linked to Hakkinen factor and there is nothing wrong to assume but given the urge that both Newey and Dennis had to bring out a radical approach to their designs had significantly backfired. May be one of their philosophy's didn’t gel together which is something of a speculation again but what was important was that the car in its given track time was proving to be an excellent contender for the title but also highly fragile. The Engine was one of the most powerful of its class and if the team had a proper chassis then they could have gone on a rampage with both their titles.
May be the long failures had forced Newey to look for Sabbatical or change of guard. From the end of 2004 season, it was expected that Newey would be making a decision on his future sooner or later and it was denied by Dennis that Newey wouldn’t be leaving the team.
MP4-20 made its debut for the 2005 season which again was the result of two highly knowledgeable designers and although the car proved to be a fast challenger, the team had issues with the engine which was proving to be a dampener in their attempts at the title. MP4-20 featured some innovative design concepts but the team continued to remain as the challenger for yet another season. MP4-21 was heavily based on MP4-20 and made its debut for the 2006 season and was the last car from the Newey stable and much was expected of it as they had apparently solved their reliability issues. But the overall pace of the car was questioned heavily and the team was in a litmus test and thus decided to abandon the development of this car in favor of the MP4-22 which was scheduled for the 2007 season. It was revealed that due to the extensive development of the car, MP4-22 featured some advanced engineering solutions and innovative aerodynamic concepts. MP4-22 was the first car in many seasons to see the team fighting for both the titles in a more consistent manner but however the team was hit hard by the drivers controversy and also the Espionage controversy which meant that neither of the titles were possible as they were suspended from the constructors championship and for the first time the reason for the lack of success were something beyond the car.
2008 saw the team fighting for the drivers championship with Lewis Hamilton spearheading the charge and managing to achieve the title in the last race of the season. This saw the team shine in some aspect but the fact that they had to overdevelop the car until the last race of the season meant that they couldn’t be fighting for the championship from the start of the next season and they were left to reconsider their whole approach and were left in finding the answers to Newey’s philosophy for the next three years.
Heikki, Perez and Hulkenberg:
Well, this team sort of makes the same mistakes throughout its span. In 2008 and 2009 season, they decided to hire a driver who in his first season showed raw pace and all he lacked was some maturity and consistency. The Team decided to gamble on him and hired him to partner Hamilton and this might have been a safe and conservative approach but they needed to be a bit more aggressive especially coming from the huge loss as in 2007. Although this move would aid the team on the drivers front, their championship aspirations for constructors were well known. Heikki really struggled to adapt to a team like McLaren as such and in his first year, he tried to show some consistency with his drive but it proved to be a long season for him. In 2009, McLaren struggled themselves which meant that Heikki’s performance despite an improvement never really saw a need for his contract to be extended.
It was revealed by the team that Jenson Button was hired by the team to drive for them in the 2010 season and despite with many people speculating of an driver rivalry and in-team fiascos like that of the past. Both the drivers managed to live peacefully except for few occasions which were understandable but both the drivers showed a solidarity on public events.
If there was something that the McLaren team could have done for the next season was to convince Lewis Hamilton for an extension of all sorts but since that never happened and wasn’t bound to happen, May be the team should have used their experience in hiring an experienced proven hand.
It would be hard to say what Perez can do with McLaren for the 2013 season but unlike Heikki, Perez could steal the spotlight as he has shown that with a better car, He can fight for a podium.
But are they just flashes of speed?
Maybe they could have gone ahead with Hulkenberg but again both have similar experience and never really had a proper car to show their mettle. So in either case it would have been a gamble. Although some other bloggers and some reporters have favored Hulkenberg, Our take would be that McLaren should have gone with an experienced campaigner. There are lots of talented drivers on the grid who are more experienced and who could have done wonders with McLaren for next season. Timo Glock or even Heikki could have been signed for his second tenure.
The Team needs a consistency now and loss of Hamilton is a major blow to the team and it will hurt them significantly as he was the aggressive of the two and the onus lies on Jenson Button now who has to lift his performance. If he cannot adapt to the Pirelli tyres for next season then Perez would have to do a mighty job but Button is more of a conservative driver who needs a proper car under him for him to shine. If McLaren doesn’t get a season right under them, instead of pressing the panic button, they have to show some patience with their approach. Lack of Patience has hurt them significantly especially the need of multiple design projects like that of 2002 and 2003 seasons. McLaren should this time be patient and show some solidarity in the approach for them to have a chance to fight the titles for the next few years to come.
The future of McLaren lies with few keywords at the moment. Consistency, Button, Patience and Reliability.