Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: What Has Happened To McLaren?

For many seasons in Formula 1 racing, the name McLaren became famous by winning world championships with Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen and of course, Lewis Hamilton. However, they have been rather lackluster over the last few years with only one win in the last six seasons. So, what has happened to McLaren and will they get out of their rut?

You can probably blame some of their struggles on the way the foundation was built with the emergence of Ron Dennis. Dennis started his career as a mechanic that had Bruce Mclaren on the team until the New Zealander’s unfortunate fatal accident at Goodwood, England, in 1970. Dennis worked his way up to CEO of the company in a very small amount of time. But Dennis never had full control of the team and was let go in 2009, only to return five years later, when he signed Fernando Alonso, who returned after having a spat with Hamilton two years before Dennis departed.

With Hamilton at Mercedes, Alonso had no problem with Dennis. But though the friendship was improving, the stockholders had more push in controlling the team, where Dennis had a small percentage. Those stockholders eventually pushed Dennis to sell off his shares in the team and he was forced to leave for the second and last time and was replaced by American Zak Brown. Eric Boullier took over as sporting director, but this season, even with the replacement of the failing Honda engines from 2015 to 2017, the team can do no better with the French Renault power units, which were obtained when many other deals were reached, which included taking Carlos Sainz Jr. to Enstone.

A wave of problems has hit the team hard this season, and even if Alonso has finished the races in the points most of the time, it has not been a challenge to become the best of the rest. Alonso’s teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne, has been out-qualified by the Spaniard in all races so far and might be shown the door by the end of the season. As things with the team grew tense this season, Boullier garnered more attention, and just last week, the Frenchman resigned, having been replaced by former F1 and Indy driver Gil de Ferran. Andrea Stella, Alonso’s former performance director at Ferrari, now is working for the Spaniard.

So now what happens? It can only get better, but Brown feels that this reshuffle will take time. In his personal view, more like years, to work out. Alonso must now decide by the end of August whether he remains at McLaren or pursues his last attempt at a triple crown of racing, which only the late Graham Hill did by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indy 500. Only Alonso will attempt the latter after securing the first two. So, will he skip the Monaco Grand Prix like he did in 2017, and race once more at the 500, or he could continue by signing up full time in Indy Car racing to attempt that last goal? Only time will tell.

But for the rest of the group, it will be as Brown mentioned – it will take time for the team to develop. And whoever drives next season and beyond for McLaren, the team will have to go through a lot of misery before they can eventually compete with the best in this sport.

About the author

Mark is a motorsports journalist specializing in the field for the last 16 years in Formula 1 with experience in covering team launches, feature stories and race weekends during the season. In addition, Mark covers the World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Lemans. He also speaks French up to an intermediate level, with a basic understanding of German. Have worked for agencies as Racing Information Service News, Racing Nation, Fansided, the Munich Eye Newspaper in Munich, Germany, and Autoweek magazine. Mark is also a knowledgeable Formula 1 driver after graduating from both the F1 International and AGS racing academies.

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David Edwards

It seems to me that the case of McLaren is similar to that of other successful organizations be they in motorsports or commerce/industry. Its difficult, having reached the top to stay there. Competitors are motivated to improve their own situations and try to take advantage of every small mistake. Cumulatively those mistakes bring you down.

Some wuld argue that as a F1 team the introduction of the roadgoing McLaren was a problem. Mercedes wasn’t enthusiastic about supporting a competitor to its upper end street cars. Thus they, although it was a soft landing , severed ties with McLaren. This necessitated another engine, which Ron deemed would be Honda. That didnt work out, for reasons that have only recently become apparent. Alonso burnt his bridges, leaving Ferrari. And on and on. Small miscalculations that cumulatively took their toll.
In Nascar you need look no further than Roush to see the same thing. But up and down the lineup its similar. Petty, Wood Brothers, Childress, etc. Is HMS next?

Hard to be the leader.

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