When the MP4-28 was unveiled back at the end of January, it seemed unthinkable that McLaren could face such a dreadful season. With just 65 points after eleven races, 2013 marks McLaren’s worst season since 1980, as they currently sit a precarious P5 in the standings, with Force India only marginally behind. However, Martin Whitmarsh has stated his intentions and objectives for the team in the closing stages of the campaign and that is to score podiums. On recent form, that may not be out of the question.
With Jenson Button taking victory in the chaotic final round of an exhilarating 2012 season, momentum was at a surplus at Woking throughout the winter. Development of the 2013 specification car was based on an evolution of the 2012 package for the majority of teams, yet McLaren decided to innovate. While their latest incarnation of car featured aesthetics almost identical to its predecessor, a new pull-rod front suspension was one of many innovations. As early as the second test, the team realised that they had made an uncharacteristic mistake; opting for the wrong development path through the winter.
A P5 for Jenson Button marks the teams best finish so far this season. Consequently, with both championship challenges firmly buried, many fans and analysts have suggested that the team should immediately halt development of the MP4-28, in order to focus on the revolutionary 2014 package. It has been well documented, that the team’s current plan is to bring a final upgrade package to Singapore, prior to this dramatic change in direction. This may well be a tactic deployed by many teams – including those still in the championship hunt. However, Martin Whitmarsh has looked to extinguish the media suggestions that the team no longer care about the remainder of this campaign, as he targets a return to the podium before the season finale in Brazil.
“I hope we can beat Force India,” Whitmarsh stated. “But I’d also like to get a few podiums before the end of the season. That is the minimum.” In terms of the team’s stuttering rate of winter development, Whitmarsh suggested: “The weakness of McLaren – and this is probably my fault – is that we have not switched enough resources to the next year. We fought and battled on for this season, as we are racers – that is our weakness. In the past often we’ve been a bit late – we’ve come out slow and then put a foot on the gas. Often we’ve been in a situation where we’ve made a mistake, then we rectified that mistake and jumped forward. But this year the problem that we have with this car is that we are behind in development. You then push hard to accelerate development, you lose correlation from the wind tunnel to the track, you lose your way and it becomes difficult to make the progress that you want.”
Podium’s before the conclusion of the season may not be out of the question. While the circuit characteristics suited McLaren at Spa, Jenson Button’s performance cannot be underestimated. His P6 finish could have been worthy of P3, if the team had identified the optimal strategy earlier and not compromised the race through indecisiveness. It may have been a tough task of Button, considering the strength of the Mercedes in the latter stages of the race, yet it was a possibility. Any sign of progress will be welcomed warmly back at the factory.