Analysis – F1 2014 the story so far: McLaren
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Posted By: James Allen  |  23 Apr 2014   |  7:23 pm GMT  |  255 comments

With the first four ‘flyaway’ grands prix out of the way, it’s a good time to assess the start each team has made to the season and look at how each team has fared with the new hybrid turbo technology so far.

Over the next week or so, we will look in detail and what’s gone well and what hasn’t, and assess the outlook for the season.

To start with, a team that began the season well but has been a bit of an enigma ever since.


McLaren

Best result: P2 Australia (Magnussen)
Best grid slot: 4th (Magnussen, Australia)
Average grid slot: 9th.
Retirements: 1
Constructors Championship: 5th
Drivers’ Championship: P8 Button, 23pts; P9 Magnussen 20pts

Fastest race lap, gap to pace setter

Australia: 0.439s
Malaysia: 2.307s
Bahrain: 2.545s
China: 2.229s


What’s gone right?
Strong start to the season in Australia with both cars on podium after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from second place. However on returning to the factory in Woking the team was told by chairman Ron Dennis that if anyone in the team was happy with that result they should “leave McLaren straight away, as the team exists to win”.

Outstanding debut for Kevin Magnussen, who also qualified strongly in the wet conditions. The team scored 33 points at the first race, but only 10 points in the three races that have followed.

The car went well in Bahrain, with Button heading for fifth place before clutch problems intervened.

Eric Boullier has settled into his new role as Racing Director and looks an asset to the team, with a strong racers’s instinct and a good understanding of the F1 environment. He’s yet to really make his presence felt internally, however, as he has been learning the McLaren ropes first.


What’s gone wrong?

The 1/2 a second per lap from the upgrade in Malaysia, which Ron Dennis had targeted, did not materialise and the team was forced to open up bodywork to cope with cooling demands in the hot conditions and this hurt the aerodynamics.

Two double non-scores in Bahrain and China have poured cold water on the early season optimism. In Malaysia the car did not work well in high track temperatures, although Button did well to take sixth place and they also had some sensor problems which cost time. Clutch problems hit both cars in Bahrain and this was followed by a poor weekend in China, where the limitations of the front end of the car were clear. Button qualified 12th and Magnussen only 15th.

Although China was cold, which should have suited them, the McLarens didn’t have any pace and were the slowest of the Mercedes-engined cars.

After a stellar debut, Magnussen has been doing some hard yards since. He already has points on his licence after getting involved in a start line clash with Raikkonen in Malaysia, which also bagged him an in-race penalty and wrecked his race, dropping him to ninth at the end.

Strong points of the team and car
McLaren has benefited from having a Mercedes power unit in the early races, as rivals Renault and Ferrari started the season behind the German manufacturer on performance and fuel economy.


Weak points of the team and car
In China a lack of front tyre temperature and graining was the big issue for McLaren. The drivers very clearly spelled out that the car does not have enough overall downforce and is very front limited, which means that on front-limited tracks such as China and also Barcelona to some extent they will suffer unless they can address the problem quickly.

They pioneered a curious looking ‘bodied’ rear suspension design (above), but it’s not clear whether this has given them the rear end downforce that every team is looking for under the 2014 rules, now that smaller rear wings and the lack of blown diffusers have made the rear of the cars more unstable. The cost in terms of drag appears quite high.


Where do they go from here?
After the disaster of 2013 McLaren cannot afford another ‘lost year’. The faults with the car can be addressed and for the foreseeable future the Mercedes engine will give them a solid platform. But the others will catch up if they don’t push hard and develop the chassis.

Around June/July things will get complicated as the technical team has to continue to develop the 2014 car around the Mercedes at the same time as optimising the design for the new 2015 car around the Honda engine. This is a formidable undertaking and they cannot afford to mess up the 2015 car through lack of focus and effort, with such an important new partner coming on board.

To complicate the task, new FIA Sporting Regulations for 2014 say that the team can use no more than 30 hours of wind tunnel and CFD time combined. The risk of falling behind is obvious.

McLaren is a well-resourced team, despite not having a title sponsor at this point. Ron Dennis has been pushing very hard to conclude a deal with a large company, which could be Chinese giant Huawei, but has not got it across the line yet.


Team boss Eric Boullier said on Wednesday that the team is confident it will challenge for wins as the season goes on.

“We have to believe we will win a race,” he said. “What is going on here in Woking is very positive and I think we will be able to keep pushing and bring very aggressive and strong development for the course of the season.

“And I think we will put ourselves in a position, maybe not in the first part of the season but maybe later, to fight for a win. I hope so.”

Overall Marks out of 10

McLaren – 6/10
Jenson Button – 6/10
Kevin Magnussen – 5.5/10

How many marks out of 10 do you give McLaren so far? Leave us your comments on this post in the comments section below.

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1

Mclaren have been lapped the past couple of races,i couldnt beleive it till i re watched the races,you will not get ANY reference to it from the commentators and i dont blame them its embarassing!!!! 6 out of 10????wtf??

2

Maclarens problems are three fold firstly there attitude towards the maclaren brand is one of absolute superiority and when things are going badly they believe its either bad luck sabotage or its somebody elses fault they will not accept they are the authors of there own success or misfortune secondly the way they treat there drivers beggars believe I don’t think its coincidence that since they let lewis go and they did let him go he would of stayed if he believed they truly wanted him but maclaren are so arrogant they thought he could go and things would just carry on as normal I know lewis has his faults but come on what other team would of let a driver of his speed and calibre just walk away this is the same team that let Alonso walk away in 2007 after one season if these drivers are worth paying these huge amounts of money surely they are worth fighting for to try and keep but maclaren obviously think not and thirdly and this maybe my most contentious point is jenson button Mr corperate, and politically correct ,team player at all times who is so desperate to find a car that will make him so much faster than his natural talent will allow that he ends up paralyzing every car he drives and then convinces his employers that he is a genius its quite remarkable how long he has managed to stay at the top in f1 with the ability of a paving slab I think a life in politics beckons when he no longer can find someone to pay him the huge salary he commands I actually like jenson and an awful lot of people do in f1 and in that lies one of maclarens problems

3

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again.

Why are people saying that KM is doing well for a rookie? It’s easier this year for rookies to shine cos they have nothing to unlearn – whereas drivers like JB have years of habits built into the way they drive

4

Pride , is McLarens problem & downfall. They think being McLare is enough & this nobody is bigger than the team cr*p pushes real talent away. It does not work nowadays.

5

Nice series of reports on the teams James.

Gary Anderson thoughts are quite interesting making the observation that it is aerodynamic or grip consistency as opposed to just more overall load/downforce that McLaren need.

It appears that they are also now stuck with their unusual rear suspension now after testing without it in Bahrain.

With Honda coming on-board McLaren would seem to have the trickiest situation of all the teams to balance during 2014. Honda is coming a year late really.

6

I trully hope that Button proves some of you people wrong. The AUS qualifying was most definitely skewed when he was caught out by Raikkonen. Coming back from 10th in the race to finish very close to his team mate is pretty good in my eyes.

James, any Mclaren/Button article always ends up in Button baiting. He must be the most dividing driver on the grid. Which is a shame.

7

Unfortunately Jenson is part of these drivers who won titles with a very dominant car. He will always be on the receiving end of criticism.

Then he drove some great races (especially in 2011) for Mclaren but people kept saying it was a combination of having the right car and luck.

so far he’s been much better than Magnussen, which is also normal since he’s supposed to be the leader at Mclaren, but I am pretty sure it will be the case throughout the season.

8

I know it’s really tedious

9

It’s not tedious James; and there is no baiting going on. This is an article about McLarens woes; and the drivers are part of the team so they cannot be exempt from criticism. And on this issue, it is normal that Jenson should receive far more criticism than Magnussen.

It is too late for Button to prove anyone wrong or right. Opinions about him are already fixed, and are based on EVERYTHING people have seen him do,or not do. This is not only 2009 or the odd standout drive – and they are quite justified in my humble opinion. I doubt he is going to suddenly change radically and dispel these opinions.

10

It makes me happy to see you say that. As a long time fan of his it’s very sad to read people discrediting him for his championship etc. I for one will continue to support him. One day I would like to shake his hand!

To be able to survive F1 for 14 seasons, the guy must be doing something right!

11

Driver feedback is important, but not as important with 2014 regulations.

I am not saying that JB is the top driver but he is taking punches for other reasons. It amazes me how many people are pointing fingers while simply every one knows how sensible a formula one car can be, therefore it is not the driver. It doesn’t matter how good your engine is if your package is not optimized, hence the fact that mclaren are having issues with their car.

The’ve lost major players since 2009 and now they are paying the price of it. Same happened with Ferrari when the “dream team” left. A lot of people here are failing to realize the real definition of aero for example which is the most important factor in F1.For example… I bet, many of the people here have never driven a normal car at 160+ km/h even. If you ever do that open your side windows and notice the difference (if you know I mean), then ask yourself who is to blame, you or the car?

JB, is fine. There are no other options for mclaren at the moment. IT is as simple as that.

12

Very dissappointing to see Mclaren fighting it out with the lower midfield teams…I really wish they can turn the tables this season…but looks like it will remain a dream…

13

[mod]
According to most of the comments the driver is the key factor in whether the car is any good or not. This is rubbish if this is the case why has the beloved Alonso not won the last 5 World Championships?
The design and engineering team determine whether a car is any good. The driver’s feedback is a factor, but not a massive one. You can’t say Alonso and Lewis are gods and Vettel has lucked into a great car and then complain that a certain driver you don’t rate isn’t good enough to develop a great car because of rubbish feedback

14

1. Driver feedback (very consistent) is very important for the engineers and I think both you and I agree on that. What an engineer need to know is when he makes a change, if the driver can give a feedback that co-relates to the change he made, then he knows he can trust the driver with the feedback. That is why 2 things make it very easy for the engineers; 1) A driver who has worked with the team for a while 2) whose feedback co-relates and is consistent with the changes we make.

2. Setup – This is even more important on a race by race basis. If a car is sensitive to setup changes, the driver has a HUGE responsibility to get it right.If you don’t get the race setup right, the difference can be from a couple of hundreth to even more than a second. Even if a car is good, if it is sensitive, the driver’s setup skills is very much necessary. I think the notion that Button complains a lot is coming from the fact that when he followed his own setup direction, he was usually lost (1st half of 2012). He had to revert back to Lewis’s – he himself commented on that. Only the engineers from McL can answer whether Button’s feedback corresponds to the changes they make back in the car. Looking from the results perspective, it doesn’t look like it. Hence, the readers comments that driver is a key factor is valid. That is also the reason why teams pay some 10million vs some who had to pay to drive.

15

I totally agree with the above. Driver feedback is important and Button is someone who only produces his very best when the setup and car are to his liking.

The point I am trying to make is that good driver feedback does not make a bad car into a good car.

I think many of the comments are too harsh on Button. Ultimately the car lacks downforce and driver feedback will not change that fact. The last GP the car couldn’t get the tyres into the right operating temp range and hence grained, which destroyed any pace the car had.

As the season progresses we will see if the team are heading in the right direction or not, but the engineering team rather than the drivers are responsible for that.

16

I think what people are trying to say is whilst driver feed back won’t make a bad car into a good one, the driver can make (1)A difference in where the car qualifies – setup/qualifying pace. (2) A difference in where it ends up – setup/race pace, and (3) A difference in how the car progresses regarding in-season development – Accurate driver feedback. How will the development team know how well their upgrades are working? If the simulator says it is worth 4/10th, but the driver can only get 1/10th or nothing, why would they progress along that path? They would have to choose another development path which could lead to a dead end. This is exactly what happened when Whitmarsh followed Jenson’s setup and development path in early 2012.

This is also probably why Ron promised a 0,5 sec increase which never materialised. What the simulators are saying, and what the driver are doing with the upgrades are simply not matching up!

17

This year is a write-off, and next year probably will be a learning year with new staff and of course new engine. Can Honda do unlimited running this year, before they are officially in Formula One? If so, that could be a massive advantage. It’s too early to say if Magnussen will be good or not. He should be ahead of Button regularly by mid-season. Button’s on the glide path to retirement, so I don’t see him as part of McLaren’s long-term future. The team needs to show promise before they can attract a top driver. Alonso would be crazy to return. Same for Hamilton or Vettel.

18

Mclaren over recent years has a bad habbit of throwing what seems like a lot of resources into novel technical ideas. I have a feeling (I don’t really know) that they have invested a lot of resources into the bulky suspension and feel that they should continue down that road since so much has been invested in it. No other team has this, and a few teams clearly have more DF than they do. If I was at Mclaren I would divert much of my resources to working with Honda on integration for 2015. I would scrap the rear funky suspension and optimize the airflow around the car to the rear. I a going to also guess they lack in the suspension department compared to the top teams. This then compromises their aero set-up.

19

In comparison to Williams, McLaren may bounce back. But it’s not clear how. Biggest surprise was Eric assignment as team boss.

I wonder Alonso would go to such McLaren.

On the other hand, Vettel may not go to Ferrari after Domenicali resignation.

Stale times ahead. May be Honda brings fresh emotions.

20

Driver scores seem rather harsh and speculative given the backdrop of such an uncompetetive car.

21

Dennis is right, Mclaren exists to win.

It’s either a 0 or a 5.

Nothing in between.

22

0 or 1 then

there are 10 types of people in the world,

those that work in binary

and those that don’t

23

What McLaren needs is some quality driver of the Schumacher category who can lead a team and knows what it takes to win titles in abundance.

24

McLaren sure seems to have lost their way. Australia seemed promising and then the cart came of the tracks. While it looks like other teams are progressing forward, it seems McLaren has once again selected reverse gear.

Clearly they are in need of serious crisis management. The next few races will see if they really have new development parts to transform yet another dog of a car.

25

]mod] JB doesn’t design the aero, which is where they seem to be fundamentally lacking.

With the fuss they’re kicking up over Dan Fallows, is it possible they’re using this as a bargaining chip to try and get Peter Prodromou out of his gardening leave early?

26

I think they lack in suspension work, too. A car that can run a softer suspension (good traction) but yet not pitch and roll (keeping aero balance stable) is something they have not been able to achieve relative to other teams. They seem to gravitate more towards novel aero ideas in the hopes to catch out the competition. It hasn’t worked since the f-duct, and even then it wasn’t a huge gain over the field.

27

Guess your talking about 08 Wayne. You said Mac was not the best car? How can you measure what the best car was, then?

28

LOL! Gosh the photo of Ron gaping mouth says it all doesn’t it. It worth more than a thousand words.

James it’s hilarious when unusual pictures are used for some articles.

Will be good if McLaren confirms the sponsorship soon, I know there’s a financial crisis though.

What happened to McL after a good opening performance. Feels like some teams will thrive well at certain tracks, with the exception of Merc working well at every track. Break is too long for me but I do understand the teams need it after the flyaways.

29

What are the chances Alonso goes back to Mclaren? He seems unhappy at Ferrari but Mercedes and Red Bull don’t seem like options. I keep hearing all these Alonso to Mclaren rumors but I just can’t see it. Mclaren seem a bigger mess than Ferrari right now.

30

What do you say about McLaren?

Their car seems to be inconsistent, and has some major flaws. Not enough downforce, too much drag, and poor cooling as you have mentioned James. The car is clearly not optimised around the engine/power-unit, and that suggests the balance is not good enough. The season, unless they produce miracle upgrades, is a total write off. It could be a period of woe for McLaren, unless Honda have produced a power-unit similar to Mercedes.

As for the drivers, they are doing their jobs without going beyond the call of duty. This is where they need a Hamilton or Alonso-type driver.

As for the team, they are all working hard, but they are struggling under the strain of Ron Dennis. If you are reading this Ron, I want to tell you that, “Your ambition outweighs your talent!” This means that you are out of touch with the environment of the sport, and that you need to change, or leave the sport completely.

31

The biggest problem at Mclaren IS Ron Dennis. He is out of touch and his management style is one of control and intimidation. Don’t rock the boat, don’t give the boss bad news, because he will fire you for being the messenger.

The work atmosphere very quickly becomes poised and fosters mistrust. I’m quite sure one of the reasons Dan Fallows is returning to RedBull can be directly attributed to the return of Ron Dennis and his self centred leadership style. When the staff are afraid to question authority, as seems to be the case at Mclaren, there is no team, it becomes a pure ego driven dictatorship.

So my suggestion to Ron Dennis is : BACK OFF and listen to your experts. Then the results will come.

32

+1. Although now that they have seemingly lost Fallows it seems that a large degree of damage has already been done….

33

I think even if Honda do produce a Merc quality engine it doesn’t mean McLaren will do anything with it. After all, they have the Merc engine right now.

Everyone is talking about how the Merc engine is so much better but in reality only the Merc team have any significant advantage. Sure Williams and Force India are doing well but they are still behind Red Bull and Alonso’s Ferrari. I can’t help thinking chassis is still the overriding factor and will become more so as the engines equalise over several seasons.

34

No disrespect to their drivers, you don’t know how good their car is without a guy like Lewis driving it.

And I am not even a fan of his but he is one of those bench mark drivers.

35

Mclaren are 5/10. I think the mushroom suspension is acting a bit like a parachute at the high speed straights. This will probably also make the front if the MP4-29 less front limited.

Magnussen 6.0/10- Hes a rookie in a team thats struggling and did an excellent job in Australia. The reason hes struggled since is that the opposition have improved their cars.

His incidents with Kimi were annoying but thats why there called Rookies

Button 4/10- Jenson has shown over the last 2 years that despite his 14 years exp – he does not have the expertise or the speed to improve a car. Im not at all surprisef by Kevin beating him in the first race. & it will happen times more. If I were Ron the decision for next would be a very easy one..( despite what he is saying in the press)

36

Yeah, Kevin will out-qualify JB each and every time Kimi manages to crash in front of JB in quali. Pretty much all weekend JB had faster practices and quali laps in Melbourne than Kevin, and in the race went from 10th to 3d. While I respect the job Kevin did getting the car through the race in his first GP, I don’t think he had any overtakes…

37

*correction- if they replaced the rear suspension – it would make the car less front limited

38

McLaren – 4/10 for becoming the worst Mercedes-powered team. They got lucky in Australia but very poor since.

Button – 4/10 for getting beaten by a rookie in Australia, and not outperforming his car (like Alonso does with the Ferrari).

Magnussen – 6/10 for Australia only.

39

Did you not watch the Oz qualifying, and Kimi wrecking JB’s Quali 2 run with his yellows for crashing out? How that equates to Kevin “beating” JB, when JB qualified in 10th or so after Kimi’s crash in front of him, and finished just behind Kevin, is beyond me.

Or do you just post on stuff you never watch?

40

James,is mclare the only mercedes powered team that uses own gearbox?Is it possible that Mercedes have a better one?

41

*Mclaren

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