Mid-Season Review: McLaren

The reassembly of one of the sports most successful partnerships was meant to be the springboard that a struggling McLaren outfit needed to return to pre-eminence. While the first races on Honda’s return to the sport were always set to be filled with trials and tribulations, few could have predicted the extent of their troubles at the mid-way point of their first season in the V6 Hybrid era.

Just 17 points on the board, from ten races plagued by unreliability, the first half of the season has certainly been a character building experience.

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Timeline of the season so far

  • 22nd February – Fernando Alonso suffers a concussion following a bizarre accident during the final day of the first of two pre-season test’s at Barcelona. The Spaniard was later advised by doctors to miss the Australian GP as part of his recovery. With conflicting stories emerging regarding the cause and effects of the incident, Alonso’s testing crash remains one of F1’s unsolved mystery’s.
  • 14th March – McLaren recorded their “worst ever” qualifying performance, as Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen could not haul their MP4-30’s off of the back row of the grid for the curtain-raising Australian GP.
  • 15th March – Magnussen’s McLaren grinds to a halt on the way to the grid and while Button unexpectedly reached the chequered flag, he finished 11th and last of those classified as finishes.
  • 9th April – Alonso looked to reassure the press that he was happy to be at McLaren, after his former team Ferrari had taken a sublime victory in Malaysia. “If they win the championship, it’s a bad decision. If they finish second, it’s a very good decision,” he stated.
  • 5th May – Ron Dennis reveals that Alonso is tied to McLaren on a three-year contract, in an interview with the official F1 website.
  • 6th May – McLaren unveil a brand new livery, defining the design as “dynamic” and “predatory”.
  • 24th May – The team bagged their first points of the 2015 campaign, as Jenson Button finished eighth at the Monaco GP to secure four points. While also running in the points, Alonso’s race ended in disappointment with another retirement.
  • 7th June – Alonso’s frustrations boil over in a scything team radio exchange during the Canadian GP. After being asked to save fuel, the Spaniard lamented “looking like amateurs”.
  • 20th June – Both McLaren’s earned 25-place penalties heading into the Austrian GP, courtesy of unreliability necessitating the use of a fifth engine on both cars.
  • 26th July – A double points finish at the chaotic Hungarian GP sees Alonso grab 10 points for fifth and Button earning two for ninth place, in what the drivers described as a “massive morale boost”.

Team Performance

Current Constructors Standing: 9th (17 points)

Despite the difficulties faced by McLaren thus far in a troubling 2015 campaign, it is integral not to lose sight of the methodology behind the decisions made so far. Unquestionably, retaining the class-leading Mercedes powertrain used in 2014 would have seen the team achieve far more success this season compared with the meager offerings from Honda. However, this is a case study in the theory of short term loss for long term gain. Without doubt, McLaren are more likely to beat the all-conquering Mercedes outfit as a manufacturer than as a customer.

As such, a disastrous 2015 could soon be forgotten if Honda rediscover the winning formula and provide McLaren with an engine to rival that of Mercedes and an ever-improving Ferrari. Despite the Japanese manufacturers abundance of experience and resources, it is not the work of a moment, particularly considering that the current incarnation of Honda unit is underpowered, thirsty and with poor drivability. With only seven development tokens left to introduce upgrades in the second half of the season, it is likely to be 2016 before Honda can put McLaren back on track.

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Driver Performance

Fernando Alonso

Current Drivers Standings Position: 15th (11 points)

Best Finish: 5th (Hungarian GP)

Grade: B

Jenson Button

Current Drivers Standings Position: 17th (6 points)

Best Finish: 8th (Monaco GP)

Grade: B-

Assessing the 2015 endeavors of the two former World Champions at McLaren is perhaps the most challenging assessment on the grid. Their role this season has been as much about diplomacy in front of the media as it has been about driving and despite the odd aggrieved moment, usually expressed during the heat of battle through the medium of team radio, both have tackled the team’s woes with admirable maturity.

The statistics indicate that the on-track duel between the duo is defined by narrow margins. Alonso narrowly leads in the qualifying stakes, having had the edge over Button on a Saturday on four occasions compared to the Briton’s three. While the raw figures will suggest that Button has reigned supreme on a Sunday, beating the double champion at five events, Alonso has a narrow advantage when only the races in which both drivers finished are considered.

Mid-Season Assessment

D+

2015 was never going to be an easy year for McLaren Honda, but few could have imagined the extent of the difficulties. Double retirements in Canada and Austria suggested that there has been a slower rate of progress than was expected after the difficulties in pre-season testing. The double points finish in Hungary will have provided a much needed springboard into the summer break, as in a period of significant turbulence for the squad, it is integral that team morale is maintained as they embark on a longer-than-anticipated journey back to the top.

Image Credit: "McLaren-Honda F1 Car 2015 Fernando Alonso 1" and "Jenson Button"
By Tim Dawkins and Steve Hayes (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-2.0]
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