Of all the F1 teams going into this 2018 season, arguably the one with most curiosity around it is McLaren.
That’s because F1’s second most experienced team has dumped its Honda engine supplier for Renault and many pundits are asking whether that is enough to propel them into the fight with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes at the front.
Red Bull won three races last season with the Renault customer engine and many podiums so the target has to be that for McLaren this year, as they pride themselves on their chassis.
The team has used the hashtag #bebrave around this new car launch and first shakedown test today – they’ve clearly challenged themselves to live up to that. At all levels they have something to prove.
I could never understand how the technical chiefs at McLaren could have got to the launch and first shakedown of the 2017 car without realising that there were catastrophic problems with the Honda engine. Communication was clearly not good between Japan and the UK.
Incidentally this period is very well captured in the four part behind the scenes documentary series “Grand Prix Driver’, which is now available on Amazon Prime.
The wraps came off McLaren’s new 2018 car today, the MCL33 and it harks back to McLaren’s roots with a colour scheme of papaya orange with blue accent colours. It’s going to be hard to miss it on TV or from the grandstands.
Lead driver Fernando Alonso referred to it as ‘a very important car for McLaren’ and he’s not kidding. Fail with this car, after all the pain and upheaval of the divorce from Honda (not to mention the expense) and the management team of Zak Brown, Eric Boullier and Jonathan Neale will have some serious questions to answer to the long-suffering shareholders.
The trio has something to prove.
We will find out in the coming weeks whether its anywhere near to bridging the performance gap between the top three and the rest that was more of a gulf than a gap in reality.
The Italians have a wonderful word, “curatissima”, which means that it something is very highly studied, intricate, developed and that certainly applies to some of the detail work on the leading cars we have seen so far, including this McLaren.
That’s no surprise as Adrian Newey’s long time trusted lieutenant on aerodynamics Peter Prodromou is behind this car and he has something to prove, having decided to come out of his mentor’s shadow and take a leading role at McLaren just as they tanked with Honda.
He is very highly motivated to show that his work at McLaren can reach the heights of what was achieved at Red Bull during the quadruple title winning years.
As for the sponsors, there are some new names on the car, but no big names on the car in terms of the scale of new sponsorship. The nose features Alonso’s brand Kimoa, which is clearly something he negotiated into his new deal, perhaps accepting that as a contra for a lower salary in the post Honda subsidy era.
Alonso will be busy this season with his Le Mans and WEC series commitments with Toyota (that will go some way to boosting his income) and one would expect him to push to the limit every time he’s in the F1 car as he too has something to prove. He wants to win races and certainly to feature on the podium. Last year only one podium place was won by a driver outside the top three teams; Stroll’s in Baku. Alonso has regular podiums in mind for 2018.
His relationship with Renault will be vital – even if the faces in the Renault Sport leadership team are different from the ones he knew during his two stints with the team.
Stoffel Vandoorne also has something to prove. He fell short of the level he was aiming for last season, certainly for the first part of the year. His performances have to be judged on the basis that there were numerous times when Alonso was given a new part ahead of him, but still he knows he can – and must – do better.
So quite a few people with something to prove. In motorsport that together with strong resources is usually a winning combination. It will be interesting to see where McLaren ends up at season’s end.
What do you think? Can McLaren win or get podiums? Leave your comment in the section below