At a venue where power units were supposed to be one of the main differentiating factors in performance, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve gave a perfect demonstration of how much can be extracted from the remaining aspects of the car.
At the start of the weekend, one of the main talking points was on the introduction of updated power units. Various values of power gain were being talked about. “One percent”, “around two tenths of a second”, all fine margins in the quest to improve driveability and straight-line speed.
However, what the Canadian Grand Prix highlighted was the varying levels of car performance with the same power units.
The most popular comparison being made at the start of the season was McLaren vs Red Bull, both of whom are customer Renault-powered teams.
McLaren, as a chassis manufacturer, probably enjoyed some of their best publicity during their Honda years. During 2015-2017, their suggestions of having one of the best chassis on the grid couldn’t be completely disproven as they were the only team running the Honda power unit, reducing any grounds for a basic comparison.
Whilst Honda definitely had their troubles, it became easy for McLaren to play the sympathy card, where they were shackled by apparent deficiencies outside of their control.
It might have been a late switch from Honda to Renault for this season, but McLaren now have the opportunity to prove that they’re capable of at least regularly performing at the forefront of the midfield, which is something that they’re not doing.
They started their season strongly, but they’re currently losing out to the Renault works team and, in the last couple of races, Force India appear to be out-developing them, or at least extracting more pace from their car than McLaren can.
McLaren seemed to hit a low point in Montreal. They finished at the foot of the Q2 timing screens and both cars suffered from reliability issues in the race, with Stoffel Vandoorne also picking up a puncture on lap one.
“It’s sad, frustrating and I’m disappointed with this result,” said Alonso after the race. “We weren’t competitive this weekend. We need to find more performance in the car and a way to become competitive.
“There are a few areas of the car that we need to keep working on and improving, and we’ll see what happens in the next couple of months.”
Renault’s year-on-year improvements since their 2016 return appear to keep on coming. They’re the primary candidates for the coveted fourth place in the constructors’ championship and they’ve almost surpassed their 2017 points haul already. This upwards trend may well be a factor in Red Bull’s thought process when deciding which power unit to chose for 2019.
If Renault were supposed to be McLaren’s main target, then their performances would look better on paper. However, Red Bull have proven that you can win races as a Renault customer in 2018 and continue to complete demonstrations of their well-designed RB14 chassis.
Whilst it’s tougher to compare McLaren’s problematic race to the Red Bull benchmark, the performance gap between Renault and Red Bull was night-and-day in Montreal; Max Verstappen had lapped both Renaults by the end of the race, and the gap would’ve been greater without the intervention of the early safety car. Red Bull’s power units will definitely be no worse than the Renault works team’s.
With Red Bull marginally behind Mercedes and Ferrari in performance, they have a genuine case to question ‘what if’ regarding a potential boost with a different power unit supplier, but in an industry which constantly deals in fractions of a second, the scope for improvement from McLaren – especially for their 2019 car – appears to be ginormous.
All images: Motorsport Images
What do you think of McLaren’s performance so far in 2018? Do you think they should be closer to Red Bull than they are? Leave your comments below.