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.