Does McLaren’s F1 technical reshuffle point to the true problems?
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Posted By: Anthony Rowlinson  |  27 Apr 2018   |  3:39 pm GMT  |  51 comments

Ever since McLaren announced last September that they’d have Renault engines for 2018, it was almost inevitable there would be fallout within the technical team. Why? Because for the first time since signing Honda as partners for 2015, McLaren have nowhere to hide and the departure of Tim Goss, McLaren’s chief technical officer (chassis) has to be viewed in that light.

Painful though it is for this great racing team to acknowledge, they’re the third-best Renault-powered entry. Less politely put, they’re the slowest – and not merely the slowest of three slow teams, all handicapped by a sub-standard power unit. For as Daniel Ricciardo showed so brilliantly at the Chinese GP, the Renault R.S.18 bolted into the back of a Red Bull RB14 chassis is a PU of race-winning capability, even against the dominant Mercedes and Ferrari units that have more or less swept the board in the ‘hybrid’ F1 engine era.

Goss, 55, who joined McLaren in 1990, was one of a three-man team charged with leading the F1 team’s technical operations alongside Peter Prodromou, chief technical officer (aerodynamics) and Matt Morris, chief engineering officer.

His departure is likely to result in further technical re-organisation and McLaren yesterday confirmed they are “undergoing a review of technical operations as part of [their] programme to return the team to success.

“This is a proactive, ongoing process that addresses a broad range of factors across the organisation. More details will be given in due course. Until that time there will be no further comment.”

Seven win season; 2012 seems a long time ago
Lack of competitiveness is, alas, not a new start of affairs for McLaren – F1’s second most-winning team, behind Ferrari, with 182 grand prix victories. Not since the Lewis Hamilton era, pre-Honda, when they were a successfully Mercedes-powered operation, have they been front-runners.

Before Merc’s full ‘works’ return to F1 in 2010, McLaren were Mercedes’ lead partner and together they enjoyed title-winning success in 1998, ’99 and 2008. They remained a largely competitive force throughout the noughties and almost until the end of the ‘V8’ era: in 2012 Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button between them won seven Grands Prix. It was at the end of that year, however, that then technical director Paddy Lowe departed, notionally for Williams, Hamilton for Mercedes and – whether coincidentally or not – McLaren haven’t fielded a fully competitive chassis since.

In 2013, the last ‘V8’ year, McLaren were one of three Mercedes-powered teams, alongside the ‘works’ entry and Force India. That year McLaren finished fifth in the constructors’ table with 122 points, way behind second-placed Mercedes (360) and not far ahead of Force India in sixth (77).

They remained with Mercedes in 2014, the first ‘hybrid’ F1 season, but despite being blessed with a dominant power unit, McLaren struggled to fifth in the constructors’ table, with 181 points, not far ahead of Force India (also Merc-powered) in sixth with 155. Mercedes were consummately dominant champions with 701 points, while Williams, the fourth Mercedes-powered team, finished third, with 320. That was also the year of McLaren’s last podium placing – a 2-3 result at the Melbourne season-opener.

Sensing that McLaren’s competitiveness might be on the wane against ever-strengthening ‘factory’ entries, such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, prepared to spend upwards of $400m per year on F1, former McLaren CEO Ron Dennis signed what seemed at the time to be a visionary strategic partnership with Honda. From 2015, McLaren would have the Japanese giant’s power units, $100m per season of Honda investment and the skills of Fernando Alonso at the wheel.

‘It’s the other guy’s fault’
It should have been formidable, but as history records, the relationship turned sour, then went terminal in the middle of last season, as McLaren sought to blame Honda for the team’s woeful lack of performance. [For the record, McLaren-Honda’s modern-era championship scorecard reads: 2015 – 9th (27 points); 2016 – 6th (76 points) and 2017 – 9th (30 points).]

These past three Honda seasons, McLaren have been able to claim, with some credibility if not absolute conviction, that ‘the engine was to blame’. ‘With a better PU’, they said, ‘we’d be right up with Red Bull’. Last year, indeed, McLaren claimed their own corner speed traces showed their chassis to be a match for Red Bull’s.

Perhaps, during the Honda years, McLaren were achieving those impressive corner speeds by loading their car with draggy downforce, at the expense of top speed, and seeking to attribute lack of performance to weak Honda motors.

The team deny this is the case, but the suspicion remains and regardless, any such practice would be out of the question now McLaren are once again running engines directly comparable to those installed in competitor chassis. And as Pierre Gasly’s stunning Bahrain P4 in a Toro Rosso-Honda confirmed, scapegoating Honda doesn’t wash any more – even less so when a McLaren-Renault has yet to out-qualify another Renault-powered car this season (disregarding Bahrain, where Max Verstappen crashed out of Q1).

Indeed, what early 2018 results, and Goss’s departure, have shown is that McLaren are finally looking to themselves to address their own technical shortcomings and find solutions for lack of performance. It’s not the power unit; it’s certainly not Fernando Alonso, so…

McLaren have promised a major chassis upgrade for the Spanish GP next month, where they say we’ll see their “true” 2018 car. We watch and wait…

All images: Motorsport Images

What do you make of McLaren’s season so far? Leave your comments in the section below.

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1

Alonso was very complementary about the 2017 chassis so it can’t be all bad.

One thing should help with the 2018 car : no other team is better at developing a chassis throughout a season than McLaren. We will have to see if that still applies to this one !

2

1990 !!
He’s been with them that long quietly receiving his huge salary and going home early.
We’ve got ’em in my company I’m sure, the guy who’s face fits, very good on the computer, in with the boss, probably plays golf, maybe a member of a certain society.
I bet there’s a good few people there who are glad to see the back of him. Now he’ll get on to his mates in another team and they’ll take him on regardless and it’ll start again whilst good people are overlooked.
I wouldn’t expect that much from McLaren even so as there’s probably a few more like him.

3

Look, there HAS been an improvement. As pointed out elsewhere in this thread, Alonso has got his 2017 points in the first three races of 2018. By any standards, that’s an improvement.

But it’s also not good enough. McLaren know that they engine they have is good enough to win races (because it’s won a race), and they have not been able to harry the Mercs and the Ferraris as Red Bull have.

So an improvement, but not good enough. And it’s now clear that Honda were not the only problem.

A proud team like McLaren is not going to waste anybody’s time by claiming that the job they have done is acceptable.

4

Given that we know where the Renault engine is, and given that we know Fernando brings 0.6 SEC to any car…. the current McLaren is really truly and utterly sh*te.

Fix that Zak or make way

5

“By brave We think of jumping without the certainty of where, exactly, you’ll land”. Now we begin to understand what they exactly wanted to mean by saying “Be brave”.

6

I guess, when it comes to the car package, the one thing that unifies successful cars is that they are very well integrated and holistic. This is either done by having a “genius designer” (e.g. Adrian Newey) who can sketch out very clearly how the whole car integrates, or by having a very good engineer-manager who puts the right people in the right places to deliver the same objective (e.g. Ross Brawn). (I wrote about this at http://thoughtsonsport1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/the-two-dominant-forces-in-modern-f1.html if anyone’s interested). A key facet of the Red Bull in 2010-13 was not just how good the blown diffuser was, but how good the whole car was. A key facet of the Mercedes in 2014 to present is not just how good the power unit is, it’s how well integrated the engine is with the chassis.

Less successful teams, by contrast, seem to tend to come a-cropper due to chasing excessive gains in one area, which don’t translate well when the car is considered as a whole. McLaren appeared to go down a route, after 2012, of optimising each part of the car and then sticking them all together. Then, they focused on getting the most tightly-packaged rear-end (Coke bottle) on the grid, to the detriment of Honda, who had to try and get their engine to fit into the car. Did the car as a whole suffer from poor prioritisation and not enough integration?

You could arguably make the same case for Williams. Ted Kravitz loved telling us this season how the sidepods were so tightly sculpted you could fit your luggage in the gap underneath. Fair enough. But was this also a case of resources poorly allocated and a car not well enough integrated, with adverse effects elsewhere?

I understand that getting the car to work well holistically is fiendishly tricky, and sometimes the gap between a very quick car and a rubbish one can actually be quite small (McLaren’s MP4-19 – which was rubbish – and MP4-19B – which took pole in its second race and won at Spa – in 2004 is a case in point). But maybe in the rush to judgement on Honda, McLaren did not challenge themselves enough in this area, thinking that the issues of 2013-14 had been fixed with Peter Prodromou’s arrival. The reality, it appears, was not quite as simple as that.

7

Instead of pointing to the one STR P4 finish, look at the other 5 finishes (or lack thereof) this year to see where Honda really is. Instead of focusing on their qualifying page, how about comparing their race pace to see that they are right up there with the other Renault teams and Haas… With a big step yet to come. British journalists love to bag on Mclaren for some reason…but the departure of stars sends every top team in every sport into a prolonged rebuilding phase… See Ferrari

8

Yep. Sure does. No hiding this time. Shame really. Another great team on the decline

9

From 2006 onwards EVERY team is on decline when Alonso joins it.

This is from 2015 (!):

He was even slower than his former team today and was lapped by both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, clearly not something he enjoyed.

He said: “Obviously it’s not the best feeling – at all – but we know that it’s the way it is at the moment and we think that it’s not going to be for too long. It’s just for a few races now at the beginning.”

Asked why he is happy to be at the tail end of the grid when, as a notoriously impatient driver, he was not happy with being at the tail end of the top 10 with Ferrari, he said: “You are not probably aware of my character or my way to approach races for the last seven years. Maybe you were in an igloo or something. I was happy and pushing the team even when we had an uncompetitive car to fight for the championships.

“I had my passion and my motivation and my way to motivate the team even in difficult moments. For many years I showed that and now I am in a new project trying to build something important.

“You need to do something different and take some risks and that’s what I have decided to do. I was second in the world championship for three years in five with Ferrari. I could have continued two more years and maybe finished second again but that was not enough and I preferred the risk.

“So it is time for many others to enjoy this moment. I don’t think they are fighting against me because some of the ones who are enjoying this, they are third – one second behind the leaders. They might well be beating me but they are not beating Mercedes and that, at the end of the day, is my goal. So this is the time for others to enjoy, soon it will be time for me.”

10

Is this reshuffle a clear indication that the results in the wind tunnel have or are not going to yield the results they believe, at Spanish grand prix?

They made a mistake leaving Honda, and now can the be competitive in 2019, challenge Red Bull, and other 2 consistently, not likely. Alonso know’s and its his last year this year.

Mercedes, Red Bull have several chief technical directors, its a budget thing, and their recruitment has been a joke.

They blamed Honda religiously in that amazon prime documentary excessively, yet their chassis isn’t on par with the other 3.

Mclaren – 2018 fighting for podiums…Lol, another write-off year!

11

I am not a big Mclaren fan anymore but I do think there was some merit to the claim they had “one” of the best chassis last year however you can’t compare that chassis to the chassis this year as its very different and it’s modelled to fit another engine. So let’s leave the last year comes to last year. I will say that Mclaren needs to shut up and put up. They were overconfident or practicing the art of attraction and it’s embarrassing. Put your head down;do the work ; let the results speak for themselves.

12

I’ve said it before and I’m saying again; dumping Honda and it’s technical might will prove to be a foolish move. Honda may well have had some hurdles to jump in the hybrid era but turfing them out for the Bulls to pick up after taking all the pain is foolhardy and Red Bull will probably triumph when it all comes together. But for McLaren it will be too late, lets see the teams lines when a Honda engine wins a race on merit; I hope to see McLaren as much as Williams back to full strength and pressing the manufacturers.

Alas for the time being that’s some hope for both camps…

13

I think change at the technical team was long overdue. The demise of Tim Goss sounds similar to that of Aldo Costa’s; where his skillset was a great fit for his former role, but not to the one he was promoted to after Paddy Lowe’s departure.

While surely there are a lot of people within McLaren who may be ready to step-up to the plate after the re-shuffle, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Woking team to look around and hire/poach experienced technical staff from other outfits. The owners should also to look into possibly mixing up upper management as well, while they’re at it.

The decision to split with Honda was still the right call, in my opinion: the Japanese manufacturer’s engines were so woeful themselves, that it never really gave McLaren a chance to properly benchmark the car. Every time Macca tried to push to the limit the engine fell apart, and that is partially why I think this year’s chassis turned out to be lacking — because the strength of its concept was never properly tested (in anger).

Holding on to Alonso is the right move. Every team needs a driver who has initiative to push the package to and beyond its limits, in order to set the mark higher and higher. Something Fernando is (without a doubt) very much capable of.

As Mark Hughes (and Peter Windsor in a different article) mentioned before, part of McLaren’s decline after Lewis Hamilton’s departure was due to Jenson Button’s inability to set a higher benchmark than what he had gotten used to; and Sergio Perez merely matching him, rather than pushing him further and/or setting the mark higher himself. (http://www.skysports.com/f1/news/22058/9032778/how-mclarens-hurried-decision-to-sign-sergio-perez-came-back-to-bite)

14

McLaren are finally looking to themselves to address their own technical shortcomings and find solutions for lack of performance

It’s not just McLaren who are finally admitting that they are also part of the problem. Even the media reporters are changing their tune on the McLaren-Honda relationship now. Below was the quote in an article on this very site:

“Honda urgently needs an injection of know-how and a season of development with Sauber.

They owe McLaren for the failures of the past three years, so a temporary separation in 2018, with Honda continuing to fund the McLaren team and white label Mercedes engines, until being reunited again in 2019 would make business sense on all sides.”

15

Its just them – the media saying stuff hypothetically, what else are they can they say till the situation plays out. All decisions are made with whats in front of them, and around them. Hindsight’s a wonderful gift that not many have, but u would expect, or thought Mclaren have been trying to lure a technical director, chassis experienced leader – issue is Mercedes and Red Bull’s employment contracts on best people are 1 years notice.

They’ve had to do what they’ve got to play with. They lost Paddy lowe in 2013/2014 to replace Ross Brawn at Mercedes, Mclaren had not needed, or felt they needed another guy, they promoted Tim Goss – and he’s out of his depth to lead and develop and design. Paddy is a true leader !!

16

Didn’t Bernie say last year McClaren was the problem?

17

Yeah and u watch that amazon prime documentary and it was unfair on Honda. When i saw that documentary i wasn’t thinking Mclaren have a very experienced technical leadership – its not the team of the Hamilton / Alonso era…

So Bernie was true. They haven’t recruited early enough strong people from the other teams, 2014, 2015, u get Alonso and who else from the best teams ??….

Paddy Lowe oversaw the chassis development, and design, they had a good car in 2010, 2011, 2012, with Hamilton and Button, fighting Red Bulls. arguably could have won a championship if they worked better together. When they lost Paddy Lowe, they promoted Tim Goss – and who’s checking his work ?? No one.

18

My opinion is Alonso is part of the problem: He hides the shortcomings of the cars, and it seems he doesn’t give the feedback to improve the issues. Engineers need to get feedback to counter them on trusting solely on data from windtunnel and telemetric solutions.

My guess is, that’s where Button was very good, and why the Alo/Vandoorne combination isn’t as good. Vandoorne misses experience and credibiltiy (And is probably too soft to get people listening, as was RAI at Fer)

Replacing Alo with a new kid won’t work either, for the same reason: Engineering won’t listen to the feedback, and are blinded by their numbers.

19

Agree, Alonso is akin to a one-man show, he has talent, but it’s only about him and him.

The phony baloney Mclaren served us at the end of last year that their chassis was the best was a total joke and blatant arrogance from their part.

Of course the balance was good, the car comes into a corner 20 kph slower than the Mercedes !

20

It had to be said.

21

Sacking Goss strikes me as a panic move. Mclaren made the Renault deal late, they had to adapt the car. In testing they found they had been over aggressive and the car wasn’t reliable, so they adapted the car, delaying their planned upgrades for the start of the season to Spain.

.

At the start of the season, with the ‘slow’ car, they have scored points five out of six times and finished six out of six times. That is an immediate and massive improvement over the entire Honda era. Alonso has beaten his 2017 points haul in three races.

.

Not having the upgrade they wanted in place in time isn’t great, but such pains are expected when changing engine suppliers late into the development cycle. The car is level with the works Renault even behind schedule, once the planned Spain upgrades arrive it should jump ahead of them into the fourth fastest team slot.

.

If that failed to happen I could understand firing Goss. Doing it now looks like a Ferrari style head rolling excersize, throwing someone who’s doing their job away for the sake of being seen to do something. No matter that this is the most competitive Mclaren in five years, just fire somebody to put the frighteners on the rest, people always work so well when they feel threatened.

22

He may have or is going to be demoted, to previous engineer role. They need a Paddy Lowe type, to oversea the car development / chassis side. Its what James Allison is super at

Mclaren have been sleeping on recruiting technical leaders of real calibre with 10, 20 + years experience.. they are at Red Bull and at Mercedes,

Next year they will save 30+ million on Alonso’s salary, and that will go to hiring

23

The points are irrelevant to the true story – Mclaren has been the 7th fastest car each weekend so far, Renault has been 4th fastest, Red Bull 3rd.

They are massively behind, the race results have been good luck. Props to them for being realistic enough to see their true pace is lacklustre.

24

They are seventh fastest in qualifying, there are no points for qualifying. In the races they are fourth or fifth, that’s the bit that counts.

.

Their poor quali performance indicates a lack of understanding of engine modes or a lack of availability. The Renault is not suddenly gaining half a second on the strength of it’s aero alone, it’s getting extra power that it can’t rely on during a race.

25

Do a Google search for “alonso mclaren best chassis” and see how many times in 2017 that Alonso and other McLaren employees claimed they had “the best” or “one of the best” chassis on the grid.

I don’t know if they were deliberately lying or just straight out delusional, but the charade has been comprehensively exposed this season, and it appears the ramifications are just starting.

26

What a nasty, unsubstantiated screed from Anthony Rowlinson no less. McLaren is the best! McLaren “exist to win”! Just kidding. I’m a longtime McLaren fan and since 2012 have found it hard to stay this way. When will the team finally improve? My daughter says NO I cannot switch my allegiance but . . . maybe I can and just not tell her.

It will be very interesting to learn about McLaren’s position on the $150 million cost cap proposal. As a grandee team they may be too embarrassed to support it and instead half heartedly oppose it, only to be secretly relieved if it passes.

27
Jonathan Powell

I’ll never forget Martin Brundle’s interview with Ron Dennis at end of 2014 season when he asked what the Honda engine was going to be like and Ron described it as ‘a piece of jewellery’…

Its not just the racing team that has suffered in recent times as theyre road cars,stunningly precise as they are,fail to hold onto theyre value.

Tough times ahead

28

Trouble was the jewelry iturned out to be from Ratners!

29

Great article.

30

“… Hamilton for Mercedes and – whether coincidentally or not – McLaren haven’t fielded a fully competitive chassis since”

You just can’t help it, right James? It’s obviously stronger than you.

I had already forgotten why I don’t read you anymore. First article and you immediately refreshed my memory…

31

Ironic that you’re calling out James Allen for being biased in an article where he praises both Hamilton and Alonso for being great drivers. Everyone knows it’s not possible to be a fan of both. You must pick a side!!!

Obviously the loss of Paddy Lowe was a bigger blow to McLaren’s development but the loss of one of the best drivers on the grid didn’t help.

If only Alonso had stayed at Ferrari he would have finally got his 3rd championship last year!

32

I am amazed Boullier still dodges the axe!

Ever since his appointment Boullier has promised improvements but instead McLaren get worse!

If McLaren are to end this spectacular fall from grace they need someone that isnt affraid of making the big decisions…step forward Christian Horner!

33

This is true, why on Earth is Boullier there? He’s done nothing.

34

Serrated Edge if it were that simple then Williams would be leading the WCC by dint of Paddy Lowe’s moving there. Plus Horner’s not so foolish as to make that move.

35

To be fair to McLaren, they were at a massive disadvantage due to the late decision at the end of last season to swap to the Renault engine, which I understand was vastly different in configuration to the Honda, which meant they had to compromise a chassis already designed around the smaller Honda unit. We saw the results of this during winter testing with several reliably issues.

I suspect the upgrade for Spain will be a massive improvement, but it remains to be seen what net gain they make against the top three who will obviously be bringing their own updates.

36

The “as good as Red Bull” claims were ridiculous, but its clear that Honda were at least partially to blame. Having said that, they should have stuck it out and hoped it would come good – their chances of beating the better funded works teams with a customer engine are very remote indeed. Alonso couldn’t wait for that of course – maybe he really did believe McLaren were as fast as they claimed, a Renault engine would get him into the game and his six-tenths would do the rest?

37

If you own Mclaren, and technical people 1-2 main guys have lost you $100 million for 2018,2019, 2020, and car chassis is not on par, heads roll. I would not be surprised if Jonathan Neale is at some point finished.

Alonso $30 million, 2019…is next. Cost cutting efficiency exercise is coming, when u lose Honda’s 100 million dollars,

38

Honda and McLaren had to split. They tried for years and couldn’t succeed together and McLaren had to say enough’s enough.

39

Ron’s Honda scoop was sound but he would have known they would spend several anonymous seasons developing so they never needed to sign Alonso and waste his career. Maybe that was the most satistfying part for Ron before the wheels came off his reign.

Without Ron we had Blustering americans,arrogant Britons and Middle East money men in thrall to both (plus superstar driver) beating up on the Japanese.

No star driver and they could have patiently got on with a 5 year of so development

which would probably put them where they will be next year or the year after.

All paid for by Honda.

No doubt Red bull will benefit from the Mclaren pain but they seem to have shown a

real effort to build relationships in the land of the rising sun.

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