JUN 22nd 2015

Henry Hope‑Frost ‑ All Pain And Few Gains At McLaren

Isn’t it painful to watch the great McLaren team scrabbling around at the back of the Formula 1 field? And yesterday’s Austrian GP was surely the Woking squad’s nadir in F1 2015. Endless penalties for engine-part and gearbox replacements meant the two McLaren-Hondas started on the back row, only for one to get caught up in a first-lap shunt, the other to fail after eight laps.

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After the latest chapter in the saga of the McLaren-Honda rebirth, this legendary set-up, with 182 wins, 155 pole positions and 152 fastest laps – not to mention multiple world championship titles – on its CV since it joined the World Championship party at the Monaco GP in 1966, lies ninth in the constructors’ table – ahead only of Manor GP, whose experience and resources pale by comparison.

When McLaren announced a rekindling of its partnership with the returning Honda Motor Corporation for 2015, thoughts immediately drifted back to the world-beating days of the late-’80s/early-’90s when Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and the red-and-white, Honda-powered McLarens ran off with all the silverware. Could it be possible, fans wondered, that there would a repeat of those glory years, this time with another pair of World Champions, Fernando Alonso and FoS star Jenson Button?

Eight races in to the McLaren-Honda renaissance and the answer is, for the foreseeable future, an emphatic no. The MP4-30 is neither fast nor reliable and appears to be giving an enormous bunch of clever and dedicated folk – in England and Japan – many a sleepless night.

‘It’s not the first time this motorsporting giant has born the brunt of failure during its near-50-year existence so let’s hope it comes out of this particular slump soon.’

Since the Anglo-Japanese machines rolled out onto the grid for the season-opening Australian GP in March, they have had 16 opportunities to finish in the top 10, thereby securing points in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships. The startling reality is that they have only managed it once – courtesy of Button’s eighth-place finish in Monaco. Alonso’s retirement in Austria was his fourth in a row – a record low for the Spaniard, whose return to McLaren after seven years with Renault and Ferrari has been fraught from day one.

World Champions Mercedes, on the other hand, whose customer powerplants were cast aside at McLaren to make way for the returning Honda, have scored on all 16 occasions – both Lewis Hamilton (who left McLaren to go to Mercedes, remember) and Nico Rosberg finishing first, second or third every time.

How that must rankle at McLaren.

With a year’s deficit to make up on its rivals from Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari, who all ran their new-breed 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines in 2014, Honda is struggling to ‘switch on’ its hybrid hope as the others make the most of a season’s-worth of on-track development.

The management, drivers and engineers are putting a brave public face on the situation and pledging extra effort to get on top of the dramas, and I don’t doubt for a second that that’s what will happen. It’s not the first time this motorsporting giant has born the brunt of failure during its near-50-year existence so let’s hope it comes out of this particular slump soon.

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