McLaren on brink of the longest winless spell in its Formula 1 history
McLaren
Fernando Alonso Jenson Button
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  06 Oct 2015   |  1:12 pm GMT  |  131 comments

If McLaren fails to win either of the upcoming Grand Prix in Russia and America it will set a new record for the longest gap between race wins in the team’s Formula 1 history.

The British team will equal the current largest gap between its race victories, a sequence of 53 races held between the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix and the 1981 British Grand Prix, if it does not win this weekend’s race in Sochi.

Jenson Button

The last time a McLaren driver scored a victory was with Jenson Button at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012 and none of its drivers have stood on the podium since Kevin Magnussen at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix.

The Danish driver finished third on the road but was promoted to second when Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified, which also elevated the second McLaren of Button to third.

So far in 2015, the first season since it reunited with engine supplier, Honda, McLaren has endured its worst season since 1980, when it finished in ninth place in the constructors’ championship, the same position the team currently occupies this year.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso, who joined the team at the start of the season, has explained that he is not expecting Honda to make any progress with its engines, which will hamper McLaren’s hopes of a positive result before the end of the season.

He said: “It is going to be difficult to see big progress [as] the limitations we have now are quite clear, and this requires a bit of time over the winter to make most of the progress.

“But we are still using these remaining races for some set-up directions for next year, some aerodynamic improvements which might come to some races, and some more power unit experience.”

Ron Dennis

But McLaren team boss, Ron Dennis, insists that Honda is committed to its F1 engine project after high-level discussions took place during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend and the week leading up to the event.

He said: “I think the period I spent [in Tokyo] was extremely constructive and there have been discussions which are extremely constructive.

“The way that you build relationships and achieve things together is by coming together and not going apart, and being transparent, and working together to solve the issues. I cannot see anything positive coming out of public criticisms.”

“Every level of Honda knows the challenge of F1, and knows exactly where we are.”

Fernando Alonso Jenson Button

McLaren’s problems with its Honda power unit are well known, but the team’s current slump began well before the Japanese manufacturer re-entered F1.

The 2013 season was the first time since 1980 that McLaren failed to score a podium finish, even though the team was running the same Mercedes V8 engine it had been using for a number of years when it was in contention for the world title. In 2014, the team used the Mercedes power units the German team used to win both world titles and Williams ran to multiple podium finishes throughout the year.

What do you make of McLaren’s recent form? Is it all down to the Honda power unit or did the team’s problems begin long before 2015? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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1

This downward spiral doesn’t surprise me greatly. With McLaren trying to run a road car business, no matter what they say, the effects are bound to be felt. Secondly, they haven’t had a title sponsor for years, so funds must be down for development. Hence they need manufacturer status from Honda, so they don’t actually pay for their engines. Times are tough at this team. The last time they won the constructors, was it 98, 99….something like that.

2

James,

I’ve been a keen follower of your blog for a long while and can’t help but notice your pronounced criticism of McLaren. This is most evident in case of a reference to Ron Dennis and ergo the team. Just read your latest post on Red Bull and I got the feeling you were imploring them to stay. That’s notwithstanding their otherwise prudish behavior to an engine partner who powered them to a fairly large number of championships. That they chose to insult the same partner whose group gives them sponsorship plus free engines has been ignored or smothered over. Your affection towards Ferrari and everything connected to them is also pretty evident. Why such prejudice towards the sports second most successful team I wonder.

3

You are entitled to your opinions, but your analysis is completely wrong. I have no favourites, I treat all the same

I call it as I see it and that’s all there is to it. No ‘affection’ for Ferrari, I can assure you, beyond a respect for the brand and the history, but I can say that about other teams too, including McLaren a team I know very well and with which I’ve had extensive dealings since Senna’s time.

Clearly the point of the Red Bull strand today was to engage people in debate and that has certainly taken place and been positive.

4

Thanks for the reply. I’m reminded of a comment from you in 2013 wherein a reader asked if McLaren could sustain the financial impact of an unsuccessful year (relative then to the previous years). You were pessimistic at best with a reference to their high overhead cost and Vodafone’s impending departure as a title sponsor. It’s been 2 years since but we are yet to see any impact of a financial strain at McLaren. This despite the lack of results. I’m sure Honda is also contributing to their budget. But that’s more to do with Ron and the rest of the big guys at McLaren predicting such a scenario and pulling in funding from other parts of the group and Honda and other sponsors.. Such comments in the past make me wonder if you are the no favorite person that you describe yourself to be. Ergo, I don’t remember such can comments or vague statements about Ferrari despite Fiat or most parts of Chrysler FCA struggling to eke out profits over the better part of the time frame I have mentioned.

5

I feel that overall the expectations of this project were set way too high. These things take time, there is example after example through the years of the time it takes to develop a winning package, it’s funny how short memories can be.

6

Probably a bit harsh but perhaps the slump can be down to the Sam Michael affect.

7

Probably harsh, but more probably just plain wrong.

Sam was never one of my favourite people in F1, but it usually takes more than one guy to bring a team down with this level of success.

Besides which if I remember right he was the sporting director in charge of interpreting the rules – He had nothing to with designing dodgy cars or engines.

8

You are probably right, but it just funny how he comes into teams such as Williams and at Mclaren when they are on the decline.

9

The problem for McLaren is that they have been making a whole lot of different mistakes:-

2011- The car was good and Hamilton was quick the problem was RBR were quicker and this frustrated Lewis. JB kept his cool and won the team over with his talk and opportunistic wins.Including his very low act at Canada. Whitmarsh and his focus on F1s policies rather than the team and his eternal love of Button was absurd.

2012- The car was really good yet the RBR was better again earlier on. The team fell apart operationally- this coincided with the appointment of Sam Michael. Mclaren failed Lewis big time on 4 separate occasions each time he was in dominant form & was certain to challenge or the WDC.

2013- Was a radical design but one they had to attempt given RBR just being better yet again.

2014-5- if you add a PU that lasts 300klm and had 100bhp more- it would at least be top 5 car. I dont think the chassis is that bad- in fact it looks to be doing everything as good or better than most except in a straight line!.

Aside of 2013 every Chassis Mclaren built was very competitive. and had the potential to compete at the very front- I will argue Button is not the guy to fine tune a chassis the way a Hamilton, Vettel or a Raikkonen can and he is the least likely to pull those final tenths when it does. Mclarens operational and managerial issues were at the heart of todays problems- supporting Button and alienating Lewis was certainly what led him to leave – I could see this coming 15000miles away early 2012- I really don’t understand how others could not- Seriously!.

The new Formula was always going to reset things and losing a class leading drivetrain to an unknown was always going to create a nightmare but one Mclaren/ Ron- rightly had to make. They just have to see it through now and I at least respect hownthey are going about it. Makes Red Bull look childish.

The only thing I have always questioned is why Honda took Alonso for $40m- a guy who is well known to be a divisive influence in a team at a time when they need absolute harmony/ integration. Both Button / Alonso are political characters that play games and regardless of what happens with the car next year neither guy will be the right guy to have in it when it does…So better start training some rookies really quickly Ron- you might need them sooner than you think- especially if the spaniard makes another leap of faith- If not I remember the last time a rookie got the better of him…

10

Remember at the beginning of the season when everyone was pining for a return to the Marlboro colour scheme to evoke the spirit of their era of domination? Probably the best decision that McLaren have made all season in deciding against that – it would certainly have completely wrecked people’s memories to see the same livery getting lapped at very race.

11

Before Ferrari dominated with schumi 2000-2004 when was there last championship? 1979 with Jody Sheckter. it took thme 21 years to get back on top, but they kept at it every single year pushing, developing and keeping there eyes on the ball. I was never a Ferrari fan tbh but what i can say is that you gotta respect them for there BIG NUTS-ALL-GO-NEVER GIVE UP attitude to winning.

They are one of the great teams and RED BULL should take few lessons. So should we when setting expectation from McHonda

12

Before Ferrari dominated with schumi 2000-2004 when was there last championship? 1979 with Jody Sheckter. it took thme 21 years to get back on top, but they kept at it every single year pushing, developing and keeping there eyes on the ball. I was never a Ferrari fan tbh but what i can say is that you gotta respect them for there BIG NUTS-ALL-GO-NEVER GIVE UP

13
Matthew Cheshire

I still believe Honda power unit problems are hiding other issues at McLaren.

They have “lost their way” since 2011 with over optimistic use of simulation data.

McLaren were slipping back through the pack years before this season with Honda. They were constantly delivering updates to the cars that invariably failed to deliver improvements.

Hamilton suffered a series of reckless incidents due to his desperation to compete. At the time, the blame was laid on Hamilton for immaturity and girlfriend issues. He lost confidence in the team and left. Hamilton has quickly reversed his fortunes with Merc. It shows the problems at McLaren weren’t really with him.

McLaren wasn’t competitive even with the Mercedes engine.

Whitmarsh was shown the door. The team realized their direction was wrong. We haven’t been able to see if they have now turned the corner with the Honda problems foremost, but there have been some admissions last season that they have been getting results by designing for drivability rather than predicted maximum performance. And using driver input over simulation data.

There has been no recent mention of the “size zero” approach from McLaren. A year after Ferrari disastrously decided to make their PU too small, McLaren repeated the error and Honda have been mentioning the size restrictions from McLaren have been a big part of the problem. McLaren now doesn’t mention “size zero” for a reason.

This video was posted on JAF1 in 2013. Whitmarsh is saying that the technology is too complex for drivers to contribute to. And the engineers believed that endlessly churning data (simulation and telemetry) for microscopic improvements was their main design direction-

http://www.mclaren.com/formula1/partners/SAP/the-perfect-lap/

The wheels had already fallen off.

14

James

Any idea on how much the token system could be holding Honda back from getting on top of their PU issues?

Cheers

15

Well, I reckon you can add another 20 gp to that total. With the current regulations I can’t see them even on the podium until 2017 let alone winning a race!

16

Mclaren have had off periods over the years but have always come back to the top eventually. True they have slipped further back than normal, but they have the resources to get back to the front.

I think the greatest risk is if any more key technical staff are poached. Paddy Lowe leaving was a real blow to the team; if Peter Prodromou leaves before a Mclaren revival I think they will be in serious trouble.

For me, the decision to build an entirely new car for 2013 (after the 2012 challenger ended the year as one of the fastest) was fundamentally flawed and signalled the start of their decline.

17

McLaren has really only made one decent car since 2008 and that was in 2012– but Jenson didn’t know what to do with that chassis. On a good day, though, the MP4-27 was as good as the RB-8, and occasionally, just a bit better. Operational and strategic errors really hampered the team, though.

2009 through 2011, McLaren started the season with a poor car, and improved it considerably.

Since 2013, though, McLaren doesn’t seem to be able to develop a car throughout the season like they used to. I think the absence of Lowe, Hamilton and Whitmarsh (and probably in that order) has left them seriously lacking in terms of improving the car.

18

A few possibilities here: Ron squandered development resources and personnel to beef up the customer car side. Ron hurried Honda into a partnership a year earlier than they wanted because of Mercedes backing out as a partner. Ron needed funds, he couldn’t raise them from sponsors.

19

Nothing more to write on this. But found something interesting on the McLaren social media articles claiming Prost the greatest McLaren driver – http://www.mclaren.com/formula1/heritage/driver/alain-prost/nine-reasons-to-be-an-alain-post/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=Prost30

What’s your thoughts?

20

If you’re good enough to be around for long enough you will have a bad stretch for a bit. (Listen up Red Bull).

From Ferrari to Tiger Woods to Countless football teams it is a certainty of sport and like all streaks both good and bad they don’t last forever so “enjoy” them while they last

21

The problem is simply Button and Boulier.

Button is the most uninspiring driver on the grid. He is full of politics and has nothing to offer on the track. If I were a world class engineer, I would avoid Button like the plague – I would know how weak his driving is and the car would be losing abuot half a second of performance by default.

On top of that, his feedback would completely misguide the bets engineers.

All I can conclude is that McLaren management is inept if it can’t see the wood from the trees. I expected Button to be gone under Ron Dennis, but even he has failed to fire Button.

22

I pretty much disagree with all of this except that I too thought Ron Dennis would fire Button.

23

Someone at Honda has got their sums wrong on this years PU.

But, I firmly believe that if all parties involved can exercise a lot of patience, they will ultimately reap the rewards in the long term. 🙂

24

How did Honda manage to get it so wrong?

They had the benchmark engine (Merc) to umm, benchmark, learn from and reverse engineer, they were able to watch the struggles of Ferrari and Renault, how did they manage to be so far off?

I have a hard time wrapping my head around this. The hardware was right in font of them. Perhaps the software was not accessible, but from what I read, they claim that their lack of power is all down to their hybrid system (MGU K (?)).

I am tired of the constant PR campaign that it is going well and will all come good — so much lipstick on a pig.

Can someone enlighten me?

25

Honda were not given access to the Merc engine. You remember how tense 2014 was in the McLaren garages – the in team Merc engineers were as much about protecting IP from Honda staff as getting the engine working. Honda didn’t have a full Merc system on a test bed, stripped down and reverse engineered. They had images, some data from sensors and whatever they could glean from failures.

The real issue is that the Merc system is built in tandem with the Merc aero and chassis groups. The Honda system was built to fit the most radically shrunken bodywork of any F1 car. If they had sorted the cooling and battery placement everyone would be standing astonished at how amazing that McLaren was – but this is the real world and first time, short development into over engineered design limits will always equal some level of disaster. Of course it will get better – but even Mercedes have shown it took four years of development to really crack the nut (and even last year they had a lot of failures of reliability).

26

I think you could also say, how did Mercedes manage to get it so right?

These engines are such an enigma, I’m not even convinced the Merc boys really know why or how their engine is so good. They came up with design solution to merge the four different pieces of technology, turned it on and it happened to work beautifully.

These engines are like putting a typewriter + an IBM + a Casio Calculator + an Atari Game Console together and getting a super computer at the end when you switch it on. Or an iPhone I guess. But how they all integrate is the great mystery.

Merc jagged it first up, and have such a built in advantage now, they will never be beaten while this engine formula remains and regulations don’t change.

27
H.Guderian (heinz.g@yandex.com)

“they will never be beaten while this engine formula remains and regulations don’t change”

Well said!!!

28

> “turned it on and it happened to work beautifully”

Yeah.. 5 years of groundwork and investment in the technology will do that for you. Try becoimg a doctor in 1 year and see if you don’t miss a few things along the way.

29

They thought it was wise to make a tiny engine that you could shrink wrap the body work around, thus making the car super aerodynamic. Only the engine is so small it doesn’t have any power 🙂

30

Isn’t this exactly the mistake that Ferrari made in 2014, albeit on a far more catastrophic scale? The engine was produced to the specification that was asked, but when it came down to it, the aero gains, if any, couldn’t offset the loss of engine performance.

They say it’s a wise man who learns from his mistakes, but a genius who learns from the mistakes of others.

31

The weird thing about f1 cars is they are all fast – but are slow only relative to other F1 cars.

On paper on the bench these engines will produce their specification, it’s in practice that things go pear shaped. The integration into a chasis is the crux.

Honda were probably ecstatic when they powered the thing up 1st time on the bench and put it through its paces – only to be left in tears once it was put in the back of the car.

It took Merc 4 years or so – powerful engines, poor integration created tyre shredders, but get it together and you have a world beater.

The wrong washer material, diameter on an intake pipe – difference between fastest and slowest over an average 120sec lap is about 5secs – top 5 usually under a second. Adds up over race distance but remarkable considering you are taking different manufacturers.

32

@Ukyo

You think the quickest GP2 car could beat a Marussia over a gp distance?

If you fuelled the Marussia to do the GP2 race distance you think a GP2 car would win – not a quali lap a full race?

33

Only slow compared to other f1 cars ay?

2015 spec GP2 cars beg to differ.

34

I don’t understand why Mclaren doesn’t make their own engine.

Honda should be partnered with red bull, Mac should make their own engine and supply a b-team.

Actually, forget that, everyone should make their own power units – though common parts and non performance parts should be able to be bought and sold by any team to any team.

35

How long is long enough?

I might be radical, but I think small problems started back in 1999.

They didn’t win a single Constructor’s championship since 1998… I think it vocally tells of something.

True, they have been around the top several times, but in most cases they have NOT been there. in 2007-2008 they’ve been closest, but still not good enough.

In 2009 their real problems began. And they are with them still. I already fumed here regarding their constant excuses like “we need to make a step back to move forward”… You know what, McLaren, to move forward you don’t always have to move backwards!

I’ve been a fan of them since 1998, even in 2013 I cheered for them. But I do not anymore. I do not believe this team has what it takes to be at the very top. They became just a mid-to-bottom level team with a twisted philosophy (most recent and striking: “let’s pack this engine in a matchbox”…2 seasons later: “ohhh, why doesn’t it have enough power?????”) and no bright future.

They nearly cost Lewis a career, they cost careers for Heikki, Jenson and possibly even Alonso, they even managed to harm Perez.

I don’t see them coming back, not in this era. May be when F1 turns fully electrical or goes to first moon race…

I started my message with words of me being radical, and I repeat them again. For me McLaren is a closed chapter.

really lost it as a real top team in 1999. Right when they lost Constructor’s championship

36

Harsh but true, Dimitry!

You can’t say that McLaren has been a “top team” since Adrian Newey left them. Sure, they have pretensions of being so, but history and heritage only carries so much weight. They are like the Liverpool of F1 – haven’t won the league in in 25 years, yet still think of themselves as one of the elite clubs. The increasingly infrequent strong season and race wins have strung them along into believing their own hype, but the truth is that the forces in play that have delinated McLaren from today’s best teams are still in at work.

37

Some respects I agree with you Dmitry.

Mclaren have gone from one debacle yo the next.

The Sports Car Manufacturers as a seperate entity have been excellent (The only saving grace that incudes the sports car racing car side)

But regarding F1 since 2009 & the departure of Newy to RBR they just went backwards. Ok they won a few races.

But the general decline is backwards.

Shame but the nails are already being hammered on the Honda Years. Up Maure Credk Wothout a Paddle !

38

Biffa You mean

Up Manure Creek Without A Paddle 😉

39

The reality is that as this landmark approaches McLaren has never been further from returning to the top step of the podium than they currently are, and I would be mildly surprised if they were able to do so within the NEXT 53 grands prix. My prediction is that both Alonso and Button will walk of their own accord before 2016 is over.

40

Is anyone else looking forward to Alonso’s upcoming meltdown as much as I am?

The best part about alonso fans slagging vettel or red bull and over-using toys/pram, calling them quitters, etc, is that alonso is literally the benchmark in quitting and throwing his toys.

It’s going to be epic, only to be followed by lewis meltdown during his next winless dry spell – because if anyone of the f1 divas can out alonso, alonso, it’s Nicole.

Epic times ahead!

41
H.Guderian (heinz.g@yandex.com)

“is that alonso is literally the benchmark in quitting and throwing his toys”.

I think this “title” belongs to Vettel.

After FOUR WDC’s he slaped RBR in the face and runaway from RIC.

42

I’d say he’s probably odds on to throw another wobbler before the end of the season.

43
Thread the needle

Losing Paddy Lowe to Mercedes was a massive blow to Mclarens development

Hope they get a big jump in horsepower for next year and see both Jenson and Fernando up the front

44

McLaren have been here before….

Early 90’s they were nowhere, early 00’s ditto!

Early 1# same, thing expect them to come on strong towards the back half of the decade probably after a driver line-up change.

45

Alonso said the chassis needs some work to find the last few tenths. Button also praised the chassis.

I’m not saying building the powertrain is easy, but it seems obvious where the problems lie. The good news is they have remained united to moving the team forward. That’s not something every team can say.

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