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A personal review of the F1 year – McLaren
A personal review of the F1 year – McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Dec 2010   |  11:18 am GMT  |  107 comments

McLaren, 5 wins, 1 pole, 2nd in Constructors’ Championship
McLaren were one of the most interesting teams to follow during 2010, as they bedded in the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and his new team mate Jenson Button, who arrived at the team as world champion.

Many people predicted tension and conflict but there were two reasons to suspect that this would not be the case. First Button isn’t that kind of character and second the team bent over backwards to make him feel welcome and to remove all obstacles to him feeling at home. I sensed that the disastrous Alonso experience in 2007 had taught them a lot and they were determined not to repeat the mistakes. I spent some time in the factory early in the year and it was clear they were really focussed on this.

For one thing, Martin Whitmarsh is now running the team and he is naturally more of a consensus-seeker than Ron Dennis, who clashed with Alonso. But Button’s maturity and adaptable character were key here as well. As long as he felt that the team was doing its best for him and that he was not being disadvantaged in any way then he could cope with being beaten on pace by Hamilton, as most drivers would be in that situation.

And so it proved – the team went to great lengths to fit his lanky frame into a car designed before he signed for the team and designed around his much shorter team mate. They cleverly made him feel at home extremely quickly. He was an immediate hit with the mechanics who thought him a ‘decent bloke’ and he did a really good job of keeping focussed on his own performance and not worrying about Hamilton. He steered his own path through the season, backing up Hamilton some times and occasionally beating him. I felt he could have been a little bolder on strategy a couple of times towards the end of the year if he’d really been going for it, but he has his ways of doing things and his results were more than decent this year.

The success of the project is that he seems to have been at McLaren for years and it’s a very stable team for the next few seasons. If they produce a quick car next year this could be a decisive factor in their ability to win the titles.

The problem for McLaren was that although some of their engineering was sublime, such as the F Duct idea and the ever more complex front wings, they struggled to get the most out of the blown diffuser and they had a car which was quite pitch sensitive.

Nevertheless Hamilton had a superb run of form mid season with wins in Turkey, Canada and second places in Valencia and Silverstone putting him top of the table. This was when Red Bull and Ferrari were throwing away points and McLaren capitalised. But the development, which had been so strong in 2009, didn’t come so easily in the second half of 2010 and the narrow window of opportunity to beat Red Bull to the title closed as the Austrian team hit its stride in the final races.

The team staked a lot on a second phase F Duct, which followed the lead taken by Force India and Renault and blew air onto the main plane of the rear wing, but they didn’t get it right until the last couple of races.

Perhaps it was this which made Hamilton get a little desperate in a couple of passing moves in Monza and Singapore that cost him in championship terms. He could have finished third at least in Monza and fourth in Singapore.

It as also noticeable that Button’s form in qualifying tailed off a bit after Monza as the developments in the car made it less stable from his point of view.

Hamilton went through quite a lot of personal change during the year, splitting with his father as manager and he has recently admitted that there were things going on in his personal life, which made him unhappy. He certainly didn’t look very cheerful quite a bit of the time. Button in contrast was having a great time; he’d won his title, was in a good place content with his girlfriend, his personal life and things like the triathlons.

I think McLaren will be very strong next year. There is no reason to suspect otherwise. They have a better balanced driver pairing than Red Bull or Ferrari. The only thing to keep an eye on is that the loss of Mercedes’ enormous financial support will surely be felt a year on from their separation. But McLaren have always seemed to be able to find money and renewing the Vodafone sponsorship deal was very important.

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Hi Ryan,

thanks for your thoughts and happy new year. I’ll give you my perspective on the McLaren.

Reliability – best of the major teams.

Engine and gearbox – (1st)

Aerodynamics – a mixed bag. The car was very pitch sensitive so this meant it required very stiff suspension. Probably a large part of the poor performance at Monaco. The downforce level was well behind Red Bull, but initially it had the F-Duct advantage.

Car driveability: Despite the hard suspension it was initially the best car in the rain. For whatever reason it wasn’t that good in Korea. Hamilton was usually happy with the car and to me it would be hard to argue that McLaren was harder to drive than the Ferrari.

In regards to low downforce tracks, there was Monza which is on its own, then Spa and Montreal. McLaren had the best car at the last two and didn’t develop the right wing for Monza, so I’d have it 1st or 2nd for these.

Another factor to remember is that qualifying pace does not directly translate to race performance. While I generally agree that Hamilton had a excellent season, I think you are overstating the “much faster car bit”.

I believe McLaren changed its philosophy in tyre temperature management before the start of the season, and later one reverted to what it did in 2007-09. If you recall from those earlier seasons, the Ferraris were generally easier on their tyres, but often struggled in wet or cold conditions. McLaren didn’t change its suspension that far, but with full fuel loads it considered tyre life critical. This compromised qualifying performance, and at one point Ron Dennis made a press comment to tell his drivers to stop complaining about qualifying as it was a strategy the team had chosen to favour race pace.

The second factor is the F-duct. This gave additional performance in a straight line. The Red Bull had additional performance in the corners. The difference is the Red Bull’s extra downforce puts extra load on the tyres and this increases the wear rate. Low downforce increases tyre life unless the car is sliding too much. Until Singapore, the McLaren was a well balanced car, so its race performance was generally better than its qualifying pace.

Of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton (I’m not sure where I’d put Kubica), I’d pick Vettel as the fastest over one lap, particularly on tracks with fast corners. In race conditions I’d probably favour Alonso and Hamilton, but the differences are not large and in modern racing qualifying (or at least the exit of turn 1) dominates. The number of titles that Hamilton will win will be largely dependent on the car. The McLaren engine advantage will change in 2013 in a way we cannot predict. He is young enough to beat Schumacher’s records, but so is Vettel and Alonso could stay the historically more successful Ferrari for quite a while too.

My assessment has been that Hamilton has learned for earlier errors and won’t make too many more Monza type blunders. Singapore was different, and may happen again, but equally he will make up places that others won’t. The ability to think through a race in the way Alonso and Button can is still to be seen and may not come, but this rarely changes the outcome of a race.

Bernd Rosemeyer

‘He is young enough to beat Schumacher’s records, but so is Vettel and Alonso’

Looking forward to someone to beat Mike’s records. I remember when I was young, people said none will ever beat Chueco’s 5 titles. Well it duly happened and 7 titles are not unbeatable either. Same goes for 91 wins, 68 poles, 76 fastest laps, 154 podiums, 24130 kms lead etc. However I have no idea who will be the one to beat those records, Alonso, Hamilton or Vettel? Being a firm #1 at Ferrari I think Alonso is the favourite to achieve this, though. Vettel has the difficulty to fight his team mate and Hamilton as well, but Alonso might take profit in the future from Hockenheimesque team decisions, making his path easier to beat Mike to the records. However he still has to show he is that good.


Especially as they keep adding more races to each year’s calendar.


2010 for McLaren was a better year than 2009, but like Ferrari they had a good car, but they didn’t have a great car.

The categories that I measured the 2010 cars in include:

Car Driveability, All Round Car Ability, Low Downforce Circuits, Medium Downforce Circuits, High Downforce Circuits, High Speed Circuits, Medium Speed Circuits and Low Speed Circuits.

The categories in order of strength for the MP4-25 are:

1. Low Downforce Circuits(3rd)

2. Medium Speed Circuits(2nd)

3. Medium Downforce Circuits(2nd)

4. Car Driveability(3rd)

5. All Round Car Ability(2nd)

6. Low Speed Circuits(3rd)

7. High Speed Circuits(3rd)

8. High Downforce Circuits(3rd)

Hamilton had a great season always trying to extract as much speed as possible from his car, a car that never had the speed of the RB6. The mechanical retirements in Spain and Hungary, the two driver incident retirements in Italy and Singapore, as well as the minor incidents due to overdriving in Korea and Brazil showed that him and his team were pushing as hard as it was physically possible in the pursuit of Red Bull. You might think at first that this is a bad thing, but on second thoughts it is a good thing because it shows that Lewis is always trying his best in pursuit of a much faster car and this has been a distinctive trait in some of the all-time greats in this sport. This basically confirms his potential to become one of the all-time greats in this sport. If I had to predict, I say he will finish with 3-4 World Championships at least. Button was solid, but unspectacular in 2010. Apart from his two opportunistic victories in Australia and China, he was never really in the hunt for a World Championship. Overall, McLaren had a very good year, but wasn’t able to challenge Red Bull and the RB6.



100% agree with your comment regarding Button’s part in there being no tension within the team I knew that would be the case before the first race.

Would love to hear your thoughts on lanky frame drivers and how this has to be built into a car’s design – Are you willing to do a part on it? Are Buttons and Webbers a thing of the past?




The key things are width as this affects aero more and weight. A comment was made that for drivers such as Kubica and Webber, while they can get their mass down, it reduces their overall energy levels and it can be harder to be fresh for all the races.


Martin Whitmarsh is an absolute disaster, this guy has been indecisive all season long. Delaying upgrades, taking them off at Silverstone even though Hamilton protested. The mclaren pit crew were just utterly hopeless, i don’t recall them doing Lewis’ pitstops under 4s, those went to Button!

Mclaren will not win any title with Whitmarsh around!


In the 80’s McLaren had an image problem, no one used to believe that they were an English team because they kept winning the constructors championship, unfortunately they look very English now. Hopefully next year.


Surely nearly every constructors championship has been won by an English team?


Given that Williams won four constructors titles from 1980 to 87 I’m not sure how that follows. Ron Dennis came from the US to buy out the existing management and used Saudi Money, so he had less history. Even into the mid 1970s there were a lot of New Zealanders in the McLaren team thanks to Bruce and Denny Hulme.


Hi Jmaes.

Will McLaren change their livery from next year?


Hope not!!


Nice review, hard to sum Mclarens season up other then perhaps that they dissapointed themselves. They had a good inovation and 2 excellent drivers, but the car was never quite on the pace of the RB6 and ultimatley it was the development side of things which never seemed to go right until the last race. Im sure thats something Ron will make sure works for them next season.

James, Mclarens web-shop is showing their mercandise being of Red & (Charcoalish) Black, with no silver, have you heard that they’re changing their livery colours (to that) now that Mercedes isnt part of their team?


I was wondering the same thing, although didn’t Mclaren have black teamwear in 2006? I can’t imagine them changing the livery of the car too much. A black and red car would be confused with Marussia Virgin and Lotus Renault.


Good question will find out


Yes I saw that too. I will cry if they change the chrome paint on the car. Best thing on the grid for a couple of year, except for the the whole earth car by honda and BAR twin paint (yuck)!!!!!!


Anthracite / Crome / Black from what i’ve read. Should look good.


I normally hate those ‘great work James’ and ‘excellent as usual comments’ as they sound like sucking up – but my god is this the only F1 site worth visiting during this dry period.

Keeps the F1 part of my brain well fed and I no longer have F1 withdrawel symptoms as in past seasons (such as making ‘vroom’ ‘vroom’ noises while running up the staris etc).

Keep up the good work!


I think Martin Whitmarsh has been a revelation to Mclaren… I really like him, he’s really added a warmth to the team. I wasn’t so sure on the all British pairing, and at first was wondering if the acts of friendship were a bit false….and was waiting on an explosion mid season…. but it didn’t happen and I think they’ve made us brits really proud!

I thin they will have a strong partnership over the next few years

My question is though, surely at some point Lewis will want to drive for another team, has any World Champion ever started and finished his career with just the one team?? Lewis could be in F1 for at least another 10 years… surely not all at Mclaren?


Jimmy is the only Champ who drove all his GP’s (72) for the same team. Sadly his career was cut short, however one could hardly imagine him leaving Colin’s team to drive for someone else.


You have to go back to the 60s with Jim Clark. Gilles Villeneuve did one race for McLaren in mid-77 before Ferrari picked him up (he probably would have won in 1982 given the Ferraris’ performance). Otherwise I’m not aware of any cases.


Have to agree on MW being a nice guy, making McLaren really one of the friendliest teams out there.. I am not a paddock regular so I have to do with the McLaren website instead of the team’s motorhome. Also LH and JB caused no trouble as a pairing.

Having said that I do miss McLaren’s ruthlessness.. it’s (almost dislikable) arrogance as a team that would accept none less that winning, 1st place (at all cost).. supreme excellence, attention to minute detail etc..

Is MW the embodiment of that? Or is he just a nice guy.. good manager..period.

Seeing MW during some BBC interviews he came across as very warm, nice, very intelligent,.. but I also wondered if 2nd or 3rd was sometimes not too often too okay for him..

question: would the famous white, shiny, super clean floors of the McLaren pitboxes and race bays also have been “invented” under MW ‘authority’..?


I can see Lewis staying at McLaren for his entire FI career.

The only FI team bigger than McLaren is Ferrari, and I don’t see him ever going there. Too much bad blood.

Any other team (Yes, even Red Bull) would be a “down-grade”, IMHO.

He would only leave McLaren if pushed, and somehow I don’t see “uncle” Ron doing that!


i didn’t know there was bad blood between Lewis and Ferrari – and what would be the cause of that?


This is all conjecture on my part, but I got the impression that Lewis wasn’t too happy with Ferrari, for all the favourable decisions they received in his first 2 years in FI (Spa 2008 for example), plus a few unflattering quotes from them as well.

However that being said, 2010 seems to have been different, and maybe that is down to both Ferrari, and McLaren having changed there Teams Principals since then.


Lewis Hamilton really is some driver, F1 without him really doesn’t bare thinking about


Neil, I was on the verge of stopping to watch F1 after the qualifying in Belgium which claimed the life of Gilles Villeneuve. However in the end I decided to keep on following F1. I would probably do the same if Lewis left, I guess another driver would step in to fill his shoes.


Quite possibly yes, he’s fast, aggressive, and he raises the ire of some fans.


I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, as I didn’t lose sleep when Schumacher retired. Drivers come and go but F1 is always exciting.


Any idea of how much mercedes bring to mclaren table? And what’s the break down i.e 20mil in free engines etc


It was a big cash sum each year.


We know that the excellence of development at red bull is centred around Newey, so no surprises there.

What I still find amazing is how Mclaren lost the development race versus Ferrari.

Mclaren had a headstart and then slumped… while Ferrari were in serious trouble at one point and then got it going and steadily out did Mclaren in the development race…

Despite Mclaren beating Ferrari in the CC … still Ferrari were stronger than Mclaren (Massa was just the weak factor at Ferrari)

I wonder how proud Withmarsh is of this slump and effectively 3rd place of 2010.


‘as the Austrian team hit its stride in the final races’

it really doesn’t work calling Red Bull ‘Austrian’, why not ‘Milton keynes’ ?


What anthem plays when they win?


Milton keynes has an anthem? Presumably it is quite a boring tune and goes a round and a round 😉


Presumably the Milton Keynes theme is this…


James, I wanted to ask about McLaren development – last year they started really bad, but didn’t stop and ended up with a pretty decent car. Compared to that, after having a good run in the midseason, they seemed to struggle with their updates this year. Do you think the reason for such a state may lie in having two different drivers? Because for the last two years the car’s development was subjected to Hamilton. But now they have two world champions with quite different driving styles and more or less equal status in the team. Is it possible that the reason why they failed to introduce updates that would keep them ahead of Ferrari and closer to RB lies in trying to adapt the updates to the preferences of both of the drivers (instead of going in the direction of only one of them)? Sort of trying to find a golden mean which didn’t suit 100% either of the drivers.


Hi Lilla,

As I’ve replied to others today, in common theory that McLaren is particularly good at developing its car is misplaced.

In terms of car design and the parts the team brings to track, the drivers don’t have a lot of influence. There are specific instances, such as Rubens at Williams, where a fault is felt by the driver and that leads to intensified development. In McLaren’s case in 2010 it was really about adding speed to the car rather than fixing problems. Lewis was generally very happy with the balance of the car at the start of the season. This was also evident in its wet track performance in China even though it was very stiffly sprung.

In 2009, McLaren started at the back of the grid and for three races in a row Lewis didn’t get out of Q1. The next race was Germany. Lewis was quickest in P2 and P3. Rain and Webber’s panic at the start hid that performance, but in the next race Lewis won easily. In one upgrade McLaren found over a second per lap. The change was a fundamental redesign of the front wing. The car remained poor in fast corners as it didn’t have enough downforce. With the best engine and KERS, the McLaren was quick at tracks with slow corners and medium speed corners, such as Germany, Hungary, Valencia, Italy, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Add some higher speed corners (sector 3 of Monza, Spa and Suzuka) and the McLaren went back a bit.

In 2005, 2007 and 2008 when McLaren also contested the championships, you will see variations in performance compared to Renault and Ferrari, largely down to individual track set ups. There is no recent evidence that McLaren is able to refine its designs more quickly (i.e add additional speed) than other teams.

In responding to the big development changes the in the last two years, McLaren initially got the front wing very wrong and then very right. Its double diffuser was okay only, but showed limitations at high speed tracks in 2009 and 2010. The F-duct took a while to get right after Force India showed how to do it better and the blown diffuser took a couple of races to implement correctly.

In terms of suiting drivers, that is more about race engineering. A car only generates a certain amount of downforce based on the wings and bits that come out of the factory. The engine has a basic torque curve that accelerates the car. From there the race engineers are trying stop losing time by (at the simplest level) making the most effective use of the tyres.

If the design team produces a new rear wing the generates more downforce but no more drag then the car will be faster. It will also change the balance of the car, increasing the likelihood of understeer. The design team will keep on working on getting an improved downforce to drag ratio for all aspects of the car. If there is a massive problem, such as 2009 with the front wing, then engineering design staff may be redeployed to other aspects of the car.

The race engineering team and the drivers have to work out what to do with understeer in the example above. At the simplest level, the front wing angle can be increased. The front suspension can be softened, but this risks the car losing downforce under braking and hence increased stopping distances. The rear suspension can be stiffened, but as Michael Schumacher demonstrated in Malaysia and China, this usually just hurts traction and from that lap times. Lewis might lock the rear brakes slightly so that the car starts oversteering initially to cancel out the understeer that will come.

McLaren’s problem appears to be a design environment problem as the developments were coming but the pace wasn’t. In the case of the blown diffuser there was a downforce gain that Lewis felt, but it wasn’t sufficiently stable, so at Silverstone it wasn’t raced. Some of the other developments suggest there may be calibration or model errors. Fixing this loses time. Renault had a problem in 2007 and is effectively still recovering. McLaren has had two season where it has fundamentally lacked downforce from the underside of the car. If it wants to win in 2011, it probably needs to be a lot closer in this department.


Thanks a lot for such an extensive comment. I’m not very good in the technical side of F1, but I’m always more than happy to read about it and learn, so your post is very helpful :).

I’ve just come across an article from “Autosport” (begining of December) which gives an answer to my question and also to James’ reply. According to “Autosport”, when asked if the drivers’ different styles cause any problems in terms of development, Tim Goss says:

“No, it was particularly good actually, whereas in previous years it’s been quite problematic,” Goss says. “Kimi [Raikkonen] and [Juan Pablo] Montoya was a nightmare. We ended up going different routes on wings and even front suspension, but these two, their preferences and set-ups are surprisingly similar.

“Lewis does use the brakes very hard and prefers a different brake material to Jenson and that’s about it. Other than that, it’s subtleties of set-up but as far as the specification of the car is concerned – wings, suspension, everything else, they have run the same stuff all year. They have different driving styles but not so wildly different that we have to go in different directions.”

So, though I was wrong with my suspicion, the whole idea wasn’t that groundless after all :).


Perhaps McLaren had a more diffcult starting point this year to implement EBD etc due to the specifics of their car re suspension geometry, chassis etc.


I didn’t hear that from them. And anyway they’ve coped with that in the past when Montoya and Kimi were there


You may be right but it always seemed to me as if Montoya was always on the outer with car handling at McLaren. I must admit I was disappointed with how Montoya’s career tailed off after 2003.


It was just my personal theory, but the argument about JPM and Kimi sounds convincing. Thanks :).



You may choose not to answer this as it is off-topic, and if so that is fair enough, but are you tempted by a return to the commentary box at any point?

I ask this specifically because of the rumours circulating regarding a change of faces at the BBC next year.

I acknowledge that it was printed in the Daily Mail and therefore could potentially be dismissed but there is no smoke without fire.

I realise when you commentated for ITV there was some vitriol toward yourself, which is why I guess you may not be tempted.

Anyway, just thought I would ask…?

In any case any chance of an article/style diary on what you get upto on a race weekend?

Kind regards



I give huge credit to Whitmarsh for his work on perception management – not only regarding his drivers but also on the performance of this team. I believe they did quite well and yet underachieved.

Yes, they were the only team to score in every single race but they still managed to come up short on both championships despite having:

a) Two of the top 5-6 drivers on the grid in peak form (no rookie Petrovs, recovering Massas, rusty Schumachers, etc.)

b) A jump start for 2010 because they weren’t contending for the prizes in 2009

c) The insight/talent/luck of developing the F-duct ahead of everybody else

d) The Mercedes power train, the most powerful among all contenders (no Ferrari gremlins or weak Renaults there)

e) A very good relationship with the FIA and the stewards that resulted in helpful technical investigations (e.g., flex wings), a few lucky breaks (e.g., Lewis at Silverstone) plus not a single (relevant) unlucky one (e.g., compare the effects of the Canada fuel or the weaving at Petrov vs Vettel’s lead gap drive-through, etc.)

f) Red Bull messing up on reliability early on to give them an important (also psychological) lead

g) A virtually bottomless bag of cash at hand

Like James said, they made uncharacteristic mistakes in development rate (F-duct, blown diffuser) but I was surprised also by the kinks in execution. The Monaco fiasco for Button, for instance.

I am pretty sure internally McLaren holds itself to a higher standard and will not be happy with the missed opportunities this year. I love their spirit and I fully expect them to show up in March pumped up, ready for the fight.


Are you really giving credit to Mr Whitmarsh? Because i dont think he deserves any 🙁


One of McLaren’s biggest missed opportunities was going to Monza with an inadequate F Duct.


Im not sure I agree. Jensons worked fine and had he beaten Fernandos pitstop he was leading the race.

Lewis made the wrong call, and recognised it in his interview.

I think the f duct took a lot of the aero depts attention away from the blown diffuser.


I seem to remember Martin Whitmarsh suggesting on Radio 5 Live in Singapore that the rear wing set-up used by Button at Monza was a no-brainer.


OK. fair point but I recall the BBC commentary team referring to McLaren’s rear wing as a “barn door”. It suggested that unlike the other teams they failed to deliver a low downforce rear wing with F duct package. Either low downforce (no F duct), or high downforce (with F duct).

So had this more obvious option been available, no doubt Hamilton (and Button) would not have had to make such a a difficult choice between the two options. The tiniest margins could have lifted their qualy and race on a low downforce circuit which on paper favoured the McLaren.


I think the key is that the f-duct was an important innovation, but it was not as important as the blown diffuser, which was more advantageous in more situations. In my opinion, while relevant, the other factors you list are largely secondary to the technological advantage the Red Bull, and later Ferrari, had with the blown diffuser.


I’m not sure of the lap time benefits in qualifying of the two. The Red Bulls were still fastest through the quick corners at Suzuka after the blown diffuser had proliferated through the rest of the field.

The first key thing for the F-duct is that it helped the McLaren pass cars early in the season when there were a few qualifying mishaps. The McLaren’s straight line speed also created the situation in Turkey. The second key thing is that it creates a speed advantage on the straights. The blown diffuser created additional load on the tyres and that increases wear. Therefore you get the full speed benefit in qualifying, but in the race the gap is less tyre wear has to be managed.

The only time the blown diffuser really contributed to passing was Vettel in Silverstone.


Good point…or the flexi wing for that matter!


The f-duct sure seemed to make a difference in Abu Dhabi with the Renaults backing Alonso and Hamilton up.

But fair enough; I am ready to accept the blown diffuser was perhaps more of a difference-maker whether because it was a great improvement in performance or simply harder to fit into a car originally designed without it.

Even then, it only confirms that Red Bull beat McLaren at the original design, Ferrari beat it at development and if Massa hadn’t been in such a funk for most of the season, the second spot in the constructors would have been at risk.


Sorry, I meant Lewis at Valencia; not Silverstone.


James, totally off-topic, but I remember you announced a screening of the Senna’s movie for the new year.

Any news about it?


Waiting for firm date from Universal for UK cinema release and then it will be a month or so before. Probably Easter time


Thanks.I guess probably UK cinema release will be a couple of weeks before Silverstone.

Will it be possible to follow the screening from out of the UK? (especially from Spain :-))


We’ll probably do a video of the event, but not show the film obviously for copyright reasons.


See, I’m happy to accept Button did a great job this year, on the condition that we accept that the expectations of him and his career prospects are as a there-or-thereabouts #2. I think if Button seriously harbours intentions of doing more than scoring a “next-best” result after Hamilton and after Vettel, Alonso, and anyone else coming through who is talented and has the determination – then I think Button could consider himself a decent also-ran. And I’m surprised that anyone who really wanted to win would be satisfied with how the season panned out. Who knows, maybe that’s not Button like it is Vettel and Alonso who evidently aren’t there to competitively make up the numbers!

What doesn’t impress me about Button is that he never seems to elevate himself above his prior weaknesses. He’s still the guy that struggles in qualifying, he’s still the guy that’s nowhere when the cars got an imbalance, he’s still the guy who can’t get his tyres to warm up.

Now, I realise this is presuming some things, but when someone like Alonso lost his Michelin tyres in 2007 he could no longer launch an understeering car into the apexes. Many, like Brundle, commented that his driving style evolved and probably had to evolve to remain competitive. Are we ever going to see something the same from Button?

If we can be realistic in one sense about his strategy decision in Australia – he had just been passed by Hamilton, he was behind Vettel, and Massa. Basically, of the top dogs he was last, so the most he had to lose in coming in was some sympathy points for 5th down or whatever.
I think these kinds of strategy calls are much like the peripherals that I objected to as a basis for an exciting race. You can’t build your game around these kinds of dimensions.

The basic building block of racing is, to my understanding, simply to be the fastest. Not everybody can be Hamilton and Senna, but you’ve got to be fast and you’ve got to be improving. Massa, before 2010, seemed to be on that path. In fact, Massa impressed so many with really becoming top class in 2008. If he had have won, and in my personal view he should have, I think the majority of us would have welcomed to the history books a deserving champion and a top class driver.

On the contrary, I felt underwhelmed with Button as champ in 2009. I felt as though his upward trend had dipped in 2008 when Barrichello outscored and out-qualified him. His first 6-7 races of 2009 were impressive, even if the competition was comparatively scant to previous years, but then he dropped off again. His qualifying turned poor, some of his races just didn’t look like that of a top class driver who deserved a championship – even though some felt he’d earned his chance having driven so many poor cars. Even as an Australian, I can admit that this was perhaps true of Webber in 2010, even though I think he got the most out of his ability for much of the year.

Call me hard to impress, but I want to see Button develop like the McLaren car usually develops in a season and not just settle in to the “fine #2” role which Rubens occupied at Ferrari – before Button can deservedly receive some of the praises.

Let’s hope so because he seems like a decent bloke, which is rare because most of the top dogs are b***ds!


Hi Paul

I’d make a distinction between what Alonso did and what Button has done. We looked at Hamilton sliding the back end around and called that talent, and it was but it was also driving around a problem. Malaysia was an example that showed Alonso can adapt quickly. As an ex-go karter it is unlikely that heavy turn-in understeer is Alonso’s natural style, and I don’t recall it in his early Renault years.

In my opinion, Jenson’s outright speed if the car is to his liking is not the issue. It is his adaptability that is the problem. Ross Brawn told Jackie Stewart that when things were right that Jenson was the best driver he had ever worked with in terms of getting everything out of the car (so on their best days, Jenson would be quicker than Schumi). There may have been a bit of ego massaging going on, but that required JYS to pass on the message to at least Alan Henry.

Also, if I was going to out Hamilton’s many talents, absolute pace, particularly in qualifying is not what I’d pick. There are a few things that point to slight deficiency in fast corners. Certainly his performance under braking is excellent and repeatable in race conditions, where some drivers are able to get it right for one lap. Many of Hamilton’s poles were set with light fuel. I’m limited to what is in Autocourse as to what Lewis did in F3 and GP2, but in GP2 he won the Championship based on racing performances and was thoroughly out-qualified by Nelson Piquet Jnr. F3 in 2005 was harder to judge as he the fastest everywhere. After an okay year in 2004 McLaren put him in the best team of 2004 for 2005 and he basically had to be Sutil, which he did.

Where I’m getting to is a view that Jenson’s race performances in the second half of 2009 were often still better than Ruben’s, but by starting behind, it didn’t always show. For example he spent Valencia stuck in traffic, so while Rubens jumped Lewis, Jenson got up to about seventh.

In comparison, in 2010 there were many occasions where Jenson couldn’t stay with Lewis in the races. China was a case where he had Lewis matched on pace while also sitting in the race lead. In Germany he made the long strategy work, but in general he wasn’t able to manage the tyres as effectively (as you suggest). Interestingly, I don’t recall this being a common problem for Button prior to mid 2009.

While I agree with your general thrust, I’ll also take issue with your suggestion of McLaren development. McLaren has a lot of resources to build new parts quickly, probably a rate better than anyone else, but it hasn’t demonstrated a faster rate of adding pace. In 2005, although the race wins are basically Renault at the start and McLaren at the end, the pace the development between the two wasn’t marked. Race engineering on the weekend often made a bigger difference in getting the tyres to work. In 2007 and 2008 there was no evidence that McLaren out-developed Ferrari. Across the two seasons it was often the case that the same driver won the equivalent race, e.g. Ferrari in Spain and Brazil and McLaren in China. Anyone who uses 2009 as a good example is not being realistic. It is like thinking that 2010 cars are just F-ducts and blown diffusers. In 2009 McLaren made a fundamental error with the front wing design and fixed and immediately found more than a second per lap. That isn’t what a development race is about. You can only make one-off steps once. What you need is what Red Bull and Renault achieved in 2010: parts that work first time.


So its down to McLaren engineering to an extent isnt it?


Performance in F1 is basically about three things. The engineering work done in the factories, the race engineering that fine tunes the package to suit the drivers on a given track and the drivers themselves.

From memory across the season, Singapore is probably the only race where Hamilton’s race pace seemed poor relative to qualifying (due to excessive rear tyre wear). So on that side of the garage my sense is that the race engineering and driver performance was excellent (the Monza wing selection is hard to judge, put qualifying didn’t go well). Button had a few more issues with balance and brake locking, so I wouldn’t give quite as high marks there.

Looking at the design side, the team started the year with the third best car in dry conditions. By Malaysia it had pegged the Ferrari and was ahead pretty much through to Germany where Ferrari overtook them. In Spa McLaren got its wing selection right and Ferrari wrong and so the McLaren was the quickest car as the Red Bulls suffered on the straights. In Monza it was reversed.

If you look at the teams that are well resourced – basically, McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull (Mercedes has money but not the staff), the McLaren team did the third best job. This isn’t a fail unless winning is absolutely everything. The margins are small, so next years car could be range anywhere from being the best to the fifth best car.

Recent history suggests that the race engineers and Hamilton will come close to maximising the package the design staff give them. Whether Button’s side can do that as well across the season is something I’ll follow.




Thanks for your comments, some interesting points


“Let’s hope so because he seems like a decent bloke, which is rare because most of the top dogs are b***ds!”

Maybe that’s the difference right there… 😉


Another great analysis which I think accurately sums up Maclaren’s season. I must say that I have been mightily impressed with the way Button eased himself so quickly and easily into the team. I think credit should be given to Hamilton as well because no matter how comfortable he may feel in his own role it must have been trying at times to have a team mate who held his own, and yet he was always supportive of his colleague and the team effort. I just hope that Maclaren produce a race winning car for them both next season as it would be fascinating to see them fighting each other at the front as the Red Bulls did this year and see if the harmony is so easily maintained.


I wonder if some of the changes affected Lewis’s driving, especially in the earlier part of the season. By that I mean, losing both his race engineer and having his assistant race engineer assigned to Jenson. He then had to establish a new relationship with another engineer who had not worked with him before.

The odd thing is Martin Whitmarsh said he purposely made these changes to reduce the appearance of favoritism towards Lewis. I wonder how Lewis took losing his engineer, Phil Prew, (who is now principal race engineer for the team)and Jakob Andreasen, his assistant engineer (who became Jenson’s head race engineer)for the sake of Jenson’s comfort with the team.


Although Lewis has a couple of weak qualifying runs in Australian and Q3 in China, I don’t see much evidence for a problem. Lewis immediately said the car felt great. Overall it just lacked speed. Early on the team favoured tyre longevity to help race performance. By the end of the year the qualifying performance was boosted by a set up that got more heat in the tyres, which is what Lewis was more used to from 2007-09.

One indication you can look for is the degree to which Lewis is getting the rear to step out under braking to aid turn-in. This is driving around a problem, and in 2010 he was doing much less of this than earlier years.


Well, if it bothered Lewis we didn’t hear him complaining about it. I think he just went along with the program of making Jenson feel welcome. I think it payed off in the long run.

Big M Small c Big L

As part of this blog’s continuing public service remit, I’d momentarily like to direct your attention to this advisory notice:

Your future co-operation in this matter, Dave, is very much appreciated.



While you’re at it, can we restore McLaren to being a New Zealand team (just as Red Bull is Austrian). It might encourage us Australians to think beyond touring cars once in a while.


I thought this was a great year for the team, they were chasing titles and in the top 3 teams, a turn around from ’09. RedBull had a car which was an evolution in ’10, whereas McLaren had to come up with something different after the dog of a car they started ’09 with. Combined with what many expected to be a fractious teaming of two world champions in a team with previous history for not doing so well with such pairings. But this was a master stroke in fact. Whitmarsh did a fantastic job of managing the team and especially the drivers, very little dissent appearing over the season. Button and Hamilton actually seemed to gain from one another, taking cue’s from the other’s driving style and both producing some sublime drives.

Next season will have a settled driver line up, Button will have input into the car development to make himself more comfortable with it, Hamilton will hopefully have a more settled personal life, Button will hopefully have a settled race engineer and Whitmarsh can hopefully have some more fun stirring the other teams (he had a field day with RedBull and Ferrari this year with the team orders, teamwork and illegal/legal bodywork). Let’s just hope they have a real contender for ’11.


James, different subject!!

You talk about the Mclaren complex front wing and when we look at the Ferrari front wing the diferences are shocking!!

I know that the cars are diferent, but any idea why such diferent solutions?


Malcolm Strachan (one of the JA community) may be able to help out if he’s not enjoying a break.

My guess is that McLaren is working with a particular model of the front tyre as it deflects under aerodynamic and cornering load. All the teams would start with data from Bridgestone and then adapt them to suit the team’s data. The wing shape is being used to establish the airflow around the car, so presumably Ferrari want different things and then the models and the engineer’s imagination (someone well down the chain from a Newey equivalent) do the rest in the CFD arena.

The development paths can be liken to a family tree. Constant improvements can be made but to get to the equivalent point you may need to go back several generations and forward again, and that takes a lot of time.


I am a litle bit disappointed by Mclaren year, they had wins over the year but they never seemed to have a winning car.

They are always talking about their great development capacity but they are not living up to expectations they create.

Like James said they took a while to maximize the blown difuser and all the updates after mid-season didn´t seemed do be an immediately gain of performance.We often seen the team starting friday with new components and ending up friday without knowing if it was more of a gain or not. Many times they took the uptades out for saturday and sunday. I think they even got beaten by some teams in terms of F-duct evolution.

As for the drivers, i don´t like Jenson much but he had a good year, he has to do more next year. That smood style bothers me.

Lewis is my kind of driver, fast, agressive, optmistic, always thininking of winning…i love that! Even without a winning car and sometimes because of others wasting points he had a chance of winning the championship but some relibility issues( Barcelona,Hungary), some silly overoptimistic moves(

Italy,Singapure) and also overtaken by Fernando(Korea, Brazil) costed him lots of points.He will be a champion again…at least i hope.

Maybe next year we will be talking about Mclaren as the constructors championship and Lewis Hamilton as the World Champion.


You have to ask ‘why?’ it took so long to implement the blown diffuser though. The base car was not designed with it in mind. As such the lower control arm of the suspension on the McLaren created a lot of problems with the EBD. If the regs allowed them to change the base car or at the very least the suspension design it would have no doubt been easier to impliment.

The Ferrari is closer in design to the redbull and the rear suspension geomerty is slightly different so it was easier for them to get it working


Thanks for the insight. From what I can work out the key element would be the forward arm of the lower wishbone. The Red Bull’s pull rod suspension would get in the way if it was too far back.

I’d be surprised if there was a homologation problem that prevented McLaren. After all, Virgin was able to bring a new chassis for the bigger fuel tank and all the ‘old’ teams got vents to support the blown rear wing activation.

In 2009, McLaren made a big step because it corrected a fundamental aerodynamic error with the front wing. It already had the rest of the car working well, but couldn’t show it. I wouldn’t call McLaren development a myth, but there isn’t much evidence that it is better than any other team in delivering performance. One thing the team has talked up is the ability to deliver quickly from the design room to the race track due to its speed of fabrication. Compared to Ferrari in 2007 and 2008 and Renault in 2005, there isn’t much evidence that the McLaren was relatively stronger at the end of the season than it was in the middle (once the race engineering gains would largely have been found).


At best the McLaren develops as good as the top teams on the grid – i cannot remember a year in recent history when McLaren engineering has been head and shoulders above the competition; McLaren development magic is a myth.


The big gains last year was also made possible because the car at the start of the year was very bad. And also last year was a “strange one” with tems being faster at some circuits and not as fast on the next.


Yes , i know it´s diferent cars , diferent solutions, but also Renault and Williams made work much faster than Mclaren.


Wrong manager in charge of McLaren – time to get Mr Brawn


Good point but i’m sure i read somewhere that the Williams was designed to run the EBD from the start??


I had kinda thought that the drop in Mercedes money, and benefits in kind, was roughly, over the long-run, sort of equivalent to the expected FOTA resource-restriction glideslope anyway. i.e. even if they were still getting help from Mercedes, they couldn’t much spend it anyways.

Between Vodafone, increasingly bigger chunks of FOM money, Mumtalakat, Diagio, and whatever they can get for the back of the rear-wing now Santander have stopped paying them to keep it blank, a rough back of the envelope calculation surely sees them not far off what they’d need to maintain a comfortable, “new F1 going forward”, size of budget.

(I’d always imagined the 2010 budget pecking-order to be Mercedes, then McLaren, then Red Bull, then way out, miles away, Ferrari … but that’s clearly just guesswork.)


Did Santander really pay Mclaren to keep the rear wing blank? If so, why bother with keep the sponsorship on drivers overalls?


Fantastic stuff, James, as always.

IMO, the real improvement is the attitude of Martin Whitmarsh towards the drivers, and how he has been able to make them feel part of the team.

Re Lewis, we saw he is human, as you say, in Monza and Singapore. But he keeps being the most exciting driver to see – his agressiveness is second to no one’s. We can’t tell “what if” he had not made that mistakes, as all the other front runners made their own big ones – “Alonso: mistakes, I’ve made a few” was your article… But next year he will be back in the hunt, that’s sure.

Jenson did a great job. Before the season started, I think that many of us believed that Lewis was going to strongly outperform him. Lewis has been driving McLarens for years and the team and the car seemed to be built around him. And let’s admit it – many people thought Jenson’s maiden title was down on a superb car, more than on his driving skills. But as the season unfolded, he showed as the brilliant driver he is, and at the end of the Championship he was just one win ahead of his team mate – not bad for him, especially if you consider who his team mate is!!

I hope that in 2011 we will enjoy another season with at least three teams fighting for the title. Still 10 weeks to go!!

Happy New Year everybody. Feliz Año Nuevo.

And Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku to Lilla (is this well written in Polish?) 😀


It’s perfectly written Galapago! Muchas gracias y feliz año nuevo! I truly hope your favourite driver wins the WDC next year ;-).

I was one of the people a bit sceptical about Button. I thought he was a deserving champion last year and would never said that he lucked to it due to the car only, but I nevertheless thought Hamilton would outperform him in every single aspect. However, Button’s performance was a pleasant surprise and I’ve found a soft spot in my heart for him (though he seemed to fade a bit from time to time). Hamilton may be the more exciting driver to watch from the McLaren duo, but Button’s “silky smooth style” is something to appreciate. Hamilton’s aggression is definitely fun to watch, but it can cost him dearly and these are Button’s gentlemanlike manners that sometimes pay off better. Some may call Jenson gutless (as mentioned above by Rob), but I think you can’t be gutless driving that car at such a speed ;-). IMO Button and Hamilton supplement each other nicely – they are like fire and water. I think it’s a very nice and stable combination. They are close to each other in terms of their abilities (Jenson may be the slower one, but he’s also less mistake-prone so it evens out more or less) and even if Red Bull or Ferrari have a faster car, I think it’s the McLaren duo which you can count on best. Simply because their relations seem to be much better than the ones in RB or Ferrari.

And now we’re going to have 5 world champions next year on the grid so it should be an exciting season. This year was so great that you can hardly expect anything more, but it would be even better if Mercedes joint the battle for the championship and Massa was somewhat closer :).

Happy New year James, thanks for hosting us here. It’s been a great year with your site and I hope the next one will be just as good.

And Happy New Year everybody with lots of action on the track and no controversies (if that’s even possible, so maybe – as little controversy as possible). Hope it’s going to be at least as exciting as this year!



My Polish isn’t worth discussing given I’ve only spent one week in Warsaw (a very ugly Anglicisation of the name…) eight years ago as Canberra is a fair way away, but happy new year to you too.

I feel Button would be more successful in earlier generations of F1. His occasional off days in qualifying would have mattered less as there were more ways to win races. It isn’t really a case of Button being slower – if the cars were perfect and there were lots of high speed corners I suspect Button may have an edge (Alonso and Kovalainen had an edge in high speed turns).

I presume you were suggesting the Lewis was like fire and Jenson water. Jenson doesn’t look like boiling and it seems like there isn’t enough Buttons to put Lewis out 🙂




I think you make a good point about Jenson. His lack of mistakes and big crashes (Monaco 2003 aside) would certainly have given him more chances of survival in previous era’s when Track and car safety was hardly a consideration. It would also have meant he would bring the car home more often than his current rivals.


In fact Jenson did almost boil in Monaco, but that was rather due to his mechanics’ actions than Hamilton ;-). However, I would like neither Jenson to boil nor Hamilton to be put down. They are like each other’s oppositions in a way, but I think it’s good and McLaren handles the situation pretty well.


…it will be better



Spot on.

That’s 2 we agree on and counting.

Happy new season everyone.


Yeah, it is 😉

As for poor old Jenson… Comparing him to Lewis he is gutless! Lewis absolutely squashed and overshadowed him. Pacewise Button was nowhere near Lewis all year and I dont think its ever gonna change, Lewis is just too bloody quick.

Remember Jensons excuses in press conference after Abu Dhabi?

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