It’s the end of the 2012 season and McLaren-Mercedes look strong having won the last two Grand Prix of the season. Despite Lewis Hamilton leaving for the Mercedes works team, there is optimism as McLaren have retained 2009 champion Jenson Button and have snapped up hot prospect Sergio Perez from Sauber. They go into 2013 having claimed seven victories and a further six podium finishes in 2012, helping the team finish third in the constructors championship and for Hamilton and Button to finish fourth and fifth in the drivers standings.
Fast forward to 2018 and McLaren are in a very different situation. A further two seasons with Mercedes power in 2013 and 2014 only yielded a double podium finish in Australia in 2014 before switching to Honda power where unreliability left the team just trying to finish Grand Prix let alone challenge for podiums, wins or championships.
Zak Brown in 2018 admitted that McLaren are a long way off winning Grand Prix again, this despite having said in 2017 that McLaren had the best chassis and that it was Honda’s engine that was preventing the team from challenging nearer the front of the grid.Embed from Getty Images
With a soft spot for McLaren it has been painful watching the team not being able to recover to their now seemingly lofty heights of 2012. Various management changes where Ron Dennis was replaced by Martin Whitmarsh only then to have Ron Dennis return before then being replaced by Zak Brown, I don’t believe has helped the team.
A part of me wishes, and with hindsight and being only a fan this is easy to say, that the team should have admitted they were a long way off winning Grand Prix again in 2015 when they began the Honda partnership, not three years later in 2018. The team had two disappointing years with a Mercedes engine that was very competitive in both the V8 and now the V6 era, that’s suggestive that there was a deeper problem within the team than just the engine, something that perhaps could have been admitted to in 2017.
It was mentioned in Autosport’s 2nd August 2018 podcast when they were discussing the driver market that now the only thing retaining McLaren’s ‘top team’ status is the presence of two time F1 champion, Fernando Alonso. Even that is now seemingly gone with Alonso deciding to race elsewhere for 2019.
McLaren now has to look long term and focus on rebuilding itself. It has made good progress on this with being able to sign Carlos Sainz, who despite only being twenty three, is already in his fourth season in F1 and ideal to rebuild the team around. At time of writing there is still some debate as to the second McLaren driver for 2019. McLaren could potentially sign Kimi Raikkonen for a season or two and use his experience before promoting Lando Norris in 2020.Embed from Getty Images
It’s important to remember that every team within Formula 1 goes through its ups and downs, look at Williams during the 1980s, competing for titles in ’86 and ’87 before a rebuilding phase from ’88 and then challenging for titles again during the 90’s. Consider also Scuderia Ferrari who went through difficult spells during the 1980’s and early 1990’s before eventually finding consistent championship challenging form from 1997 to 2008.
McLaren only need to look at themselves if they need further inspiration, having said goodbye to Honda in 1992, there were some glimmers of hope in 1993 thanks to Ford and Ayrton Senna, but from 1994 to 1996 the team was in a rebuilding phase swapping an unreliable Peugeot engine for a Mercedes and bringing in David Coulthard alongside Mika Hakkinen as well as hiring Adrian Newey leading to the team having a resurgence from 1997. Here’s hoping that McLaren are able to pull something similar off in the coming years.Embed from Getty Images