They have been a heavyweight in the constructors market since their inception in 1966. From Bruce McLaren all the way to Martin Whitmarsh, they were able to attract the biggest names in the field, and put Ferrari in their place on many occasions.
Now, currently sitting second from bottom of the Constructors Championship, McLaren are in freefall…
Lewis Hamilton’s Departure
One can trace the roots of this fall to the 2013 departure of Lewis Hamilton. The man who staked a claim as the best British driver of this generation has led from the front since 2007, putting in consistent high-quality drives that kept McLaren within touching distance of Ferrari and Red Bull. Amidst the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, Hamilton was never far away.
The partnership McLaren had with Mercedes met with a fruitful success for Hamilton, and partner Alonso. Both finished within the top 5 during the final constructors standings during their two years together.
The Honda Partnership
In 2015, McLaren announced their split from Mercedes as the teams primary engine supplier and formed a deal with Honda.
The intention was to provide their drivers – Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso – with a car that could challenge the dominance of Mercedes and Red Bull. Nothing of this nature materialised and it is prudent to ask whether the investment was ever going to work.
Honda, as a F1 team themselves, were mid-table finishers for the most, with Button and Rubens Barrichello at the wheel. Indeed it took Button 113 races with Honda before he secured his first win for the side. Barrichello, by contrast, failed to take a victory at all.
Even under the direction of Ross Brawn, in which both Button and Barrichello dominated the 2009 season before Button emerged victorious, it only lasted a year before the side morphed into Mercedes GP.
Honda supplied engines which failed to prove either successful nor consistent in race finishing. Both Alonso and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne have suffered from engine failure numerous times over the season, in addition to over 200 grid penalties. McLaren, as a legend of the F1 circuit, has fallen to mid-table as a result.
The Future of Alonso
Questions are being asked over the commitment of the Spanish hero. The dignity of the two time world champion has taken a hit since rejoining the side he left in 2007, though try as he might to bring the points home. He lashed out at the engine he was working with during a furious failing in Belgium, describing the mechanical setup as ‘embarrassing‘.
At 36 he is a well established veteran of the circuit with nothing to prove. He has already opted out of Formula 1 before to race the Indy 500 (he placed a much respected fifth), and the lure of American motorsport may prove too much as he approaches a crossroads in his career.
The alternative is that Alonso stays now that the partnership with Honda has ended.
Where Do McLaren Go Now?
A split between the pair seemed almost inevitable as the results fail to speak for the noise of investment and promise made.
A pairing with Renault has entered the pipeline for the 2018 season, which will sit well with Alonso – his championship victories came courtesy of a Renault engine. It would also mean an advantage of around 60bhp on the current Honda engine, which would propel McLaren’s drivers back into the top six.
Designs for the 2018 cars have already begun for most, if not all, other teams. McLaren have finally closed the chapter on their engine supplier. Catch up is already being played, but whether it will be of benefit remains to be seen.
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