The 2013 Team Review series has run into 2014 and there is still plenty more to come. Today it is McLaren who are up for examination after a year of disappointment and despair for the team as they suffered their first season without a podium finish since 1980. Despite the best efforts of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, the season was condemned to failure from the start as McLaren were yet another team to take the wrong approach to what should have been an evolutionary winter.
The McLaren Technology Centre would have undoubtedly been a miserable place throughout this year as a disastrous season followed a significantly under-par winter. McLaren followed in the footsteps of Williams and Sauber, by choosing revolution over evolution. While aesthetically the car looked almost identical to its predecessor, a number of key changes were hidden beneath the bodywork, including a Ferrari-esque front pull-rod suspension. This was always a huge gamble as such a switch could take several races to acclimatise to, yet the team ultimately had bigger issues afoot, as an unorthodox high nose meant that the car suffered from instability, especially under braking. It took the team half the season to fully understand the issues and then work to correct them took the remainder of the development programme.
After ending 2012 with debatable the fastest car on the grid, revolution seemed to be an unnecessary risk. This is especially poignant considering that accountability in the Technical department was no-existent, with Paddy Lowe all but checked out of the team by the end of January. His absence from the car’s unveiling told the story and the likelihood is that his full attention may not have been on developing the best car for McLaren.
Meanwhile, McLaren newcomer Sergio Perez endured an erratic campaign. After the first two rounds of the championship, Perez was accused by Whitmarsh of being too placid and he asked for more aggressive performances from the Mexican. Checo delivered aggression, yet it was not entirely controlled and he twice angered Kimi Raikkonen as the two collided in both China and Monaco. More poignantly, Button and Perez came to blows in Bahrain, with the two making contact on several occasions, leading to Button’s now famous team radio call asking the team to “calm him down.”
While Perez developed throughout the year, Jenson Button extracted the maximum from the car throughout the season, hence the differing points totals, with Button scoring 73 points compared to Perez’s 49. As such, Jenson’s first year as undisputed number one at McLaren has been somewhat of a success from an internal perspective; He managed to beat his less experienced teammate, while developing an effective working relationship with him. The latter was particularly difficult when it is considered that the relationship was at breaking point post Bahrain; Sam Micheal and Martin Whitmarsh dealt with the situation calmly and above all effectively.
The final race of the season was a massive boost for McLaren heading into a challenging winter. Jenson Button’s P4 finish was no fluke, as he maintained a consistent pace throughout the duration, posting some times which extended even the likes of Vettel. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez climbed from P19 on the grid after a crash in Qualifying, to an astounding P6. He was undoubtedly determined to show McLaren that they had turned their back on him too soon and while both he and Jenson benefited from the misfortune of Massa and Hamilton, it was still quite an achievement.
McLaren have been known in the past as the masters of in-season development and a glimpse of substance to match the claim was visible towards the end of the season as the team became far more competitive. Finishing in P5 in the constructors is failure for a team with the history and prestige of McLaren, but with a determined Technical Team and Tim Goss at the helm, 2014 should be a better season for the team. If it is not, then Whitmarsh may get his marching orders.