McLaren, one of the most famous names in Formula 1, have history coming out from their side pods. Indeed, more recent times haven’t disappointed either. In a tumultuous last few years we’ve had: Hamilton, Alonso, spying, lying, a final corner championship win, Ron Dennis’ exit, Hamilton’s Dad dressing in the same way all the time, Mercedes’ move to run their own team and far more besides. This preview will simply try to provide a snapshot of the team over the last three seasons, including some of its key personnel and their chances for the forthcoming season.
The McLaren team was founded by, yes, you guessed it, Bruce McLaren, and made its first race appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966. With the team’s first race win coming in 1968, it’s clear we’re dealing with a team that has a pretty comprehensive heritage, although, your correspondent imagines that he’s not the only person to wish the team was simply called “Bruce”. Even though they chose to call themselves the quite clearly inferior “McLaren”, they’ve managed to do ok, winning 164 Grands Prix with 145 pole positions and 136 fastest laps, including a not to be sniffed at 8 world championships.
Recent history has proven rather more…interesting than the team would probably have liked. In 2007 the team partnered two-time world Champion Fernando Alonso with rookie Lewis Hamilton. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turned out, pretty much everything. Hamilton got off to a barnstorming start, finishing on the podium for the first nine races and clearly unsettling Alonso throughout the season. Whether this was through speed, personality, extent of team backing or something else entirely is something probably only Fernando knows. The enmity reached its on-track zenith at the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying, when this delightful tit-for-tat incident occurred, with Alonso blocking Hamilton in the pit lane as retaliation for Hamilton not allowing Alonso past on track, as per team orders, causing Lewis not to be able to complete his final quick lap. Cue Alonso’s demotion down the grid. As if having two teammates at each other’s throats wasn’t enough, the team also lost all their constructor’s points in the so-called “Spygate” controversy. Essentially, and to cut a very long story short, the McLaren team was accused of and penalised for receiving confidential Ferrari data from a disgruntled employee. McLaren claimed the data hadn’t been used in the cars and was only known to the McLaren employee who’d received it, but after the above incident at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso threatened to send incriminating emails between him and Pedro De La Rosa to the FIA. As a result of all of these shenanigans McLaren was stripped of its constructors’ points and fined $100 million. Then, to top it off, both Hamilton and Alonso lost the championship to a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen during the last race. Absolute and complete madness.
After the end of the barmy 2007 season McLaren and Alonso parted ways, perhaps unsurprisingly, and all round good egg Heikki Kovalainen came in. The 2008 season was also filled with incident for the team, although thankfully not of a criminal nature. Who remembers this doozy, in which Hamilton overtook Raikkonen at Spa by cutting the final chicane, let him back past (just!) and then passed him down the main straight? It didn’t work out well for him, as Hamilton was stripped of the win and it was, instead, awarded to Massa, his championship rival. Going into the final race in Brazil, Hamilton lead Massa by seven points and needed to finish in the top five to win the championship. In a rain affected race, Massa crossed the line first and, going into the final corner, Hamilton was sixth behind Timo ‘on the wrong tyres’ Glock’s Toyota. Then, this happened. If you want to see someone’s heart break just a little, then watch Massa’s Dad’s face in this video. No-one deserves that. However, Ferrari won the constructors’ title, which surely went a long way to assuaging their disappointment. Maybe.
Last season saw the team get horribly confused by the new regulations and produce an absolute dog of a car which, given it was also the first season with Martin Whitmarsh as team principal, can’t have made for many relaxing nights’ sleep. The year started badly, with Hamilton accused of, and being punished for giving false evidence to the FIA stewards at the Australian Grand Prix. Cue much hand-wringing and a tearful press conference. What joy. However, over the course of the season the team managed to find about two and a half seconds in a truly remarkable effort to turn the car around, even winning Grands Prix in Hungary and Singapore. They also managed to crawl over the line third in the constructors’ table, beating Ferrari by just one point.
For the forthcoming season the team will truly hope to have produced a car able to compete at the top end of the grid. Testing appears to have gone well and, although it’s very hard to rank the teams in any sort of order, McLaren certainly seem to be up there. The big pre-season news is, of course, Jenson Button’s move from Brawn, meaning McLaren have the two previous (both British) world champions driving for them this season. Given Hamilton’s ‘interesting’ time with the last world champion he drove with, let’s see how it goes, eh? De La Rosa’s departure for Sauber means Gary Paffett will have more responsibility as test driver this season, so it’ll also be interesting to see how he performs. McLaren for the title? We’ll see, but if it’s only half as exciting as the previous three years then we’re surely in for quite a ride…
Minimum target: Competing for the title until the last race
Ambitious target: Winning everything and maintaining driver harmony
Benson Jamichello’s prediction: Hamilton to beat Button, but not by much, as well as lots of passive-aggressive behaviour.