McLaren’s misery assessed ahead of the British Grand Prix

Ahead of the British Grand Prix, The Sport Space’s F1 writer Kyle Archer looks at the problems facing McLaren-Honda and what the future holds for the team.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the home of British motorsport, but what will this weekend’s race hold for Britain’s biggest Grand Prix team McLaren? They find themselves down in ninth place in the Constructors Championship with only Manor-Marussia behind them as they continue their battle to move through the field amidst endless reliability problems dragging them back down. But once they fix their issues, can they compete for championships again or will they still find themselves in the midfield?

Even though their renewed relationship with Honda was so McLaren can battle for the titles again, for the time being at least championship fights should be the least of their concerns. Instead the priority for McLaren and Honda should be to resolve the reliability problems keeping them down.

Across the 2015 season when you look at McLaren you see them struggling to even see the chequered flag, with Button only finishing half of the races so far while Alonso has seen the flag on just two occasions. Luckily for Honda, the problems keeping the cars in the garage has not always been down to the power unit. But while that is the case, the power unit is still unable to run at full capacity due to it’s design and has been the root of McLaren’s issues since winter testing kicked off in February.

Canadian Grand Prix, Bottas, Raikkonen, Button

A lot of these issues can be put down to Honda coming back into Formula One after Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault had already had a year of running with their engines and had been developing them years before their first runs. But Honda still had time before this season to develop the engine to a suitable stage and maybe even have a cheeky test with a non-F1 car to see how the engine worked. Like what Ferrari were rumored to have done with their hybrid power unit.

But now they find themselves struggling with a power unit they designed using technology that was new and unproven, as they did not want to find upgrading the unit hard. McLaren were also responsible for the design of the unit as they designed the MP4-30 to be extremely aggressive aerodynamically with a ‘size zero’ body. For example, Honda has placed the turbo within the ‘V’ of the engine as well as compacting other elements into this tight space and behind the engine.

Once the reliability problems are sorted, McLaren’s ‘size zero’ bodywork will also be more advantageous and can be fully shown off. But the time it will take Honda and McLaren to create a tightly configured, efficient and reliable engine may be a while yet meaning they will continue to lurk in the midfield or at the back of the grid. More worryingly, the longer it takes and the more power units McLaren burn through will mean penalties, penalties and more penalties as both Button and Alonso found last time out in Austria.

Both drivers broke records with the team as they took a combined 50-place grid penalty with each driver taking 25-places each (which meant they also took in-race penalties to make the matter worse). But while Jenson received his entire penalty for changing elements of his engine, Fernando lost five additional places through a gearbox change during practice. But regardless of the penalties, neither driver saw the chequered flag once again with Button retiring due to an electrical issue and Alonso being caught up in Raikkonen’s accident.

But while being caught up in a Ferrari loosing traction and sending both of you into a barrier is nothing McLaren and Honda can control, it did mean the weekend that was being treated as an early test was another write off to go with their other DNF’s. In fact, Alonso last finished a race at the Bahrain Grand Prix before failing to finish in Spain, Monaco, Canada and Austria. Whereas Button was able to stay on track in Monaco to take the teams first, and only, points of the season so far.

Jenson Button securing McLaren-Honda's first points of the 2015 season at the Monaco Grand Prix in 8th position.

Those points came as a welcome reward to the team who had been making signs of progress at the time but it is still far from where they would like to be, winning races. Yet even before Honda returned to Formula One alongside McLaren, the Woking outfit were struggling for results. Even last year with the best power unit available, the Mercedes-AMG PU106A Hybrid, McLaren were only able to take one podium and that came at the first race of the year. But while Magnussen stood on the podium after his debut race for third place, he was later promoted to second and Button third after Ricciardo’s fuel flow disqualification.

You actually have to go back to 2012 to find the last season where McLaren were truly competitive and won a race, as across the 2013 season they were unable to take a single podium finish. In total, McLaren took seven wins in 2012 with Hamilton & Button and could even have added two more had Lewis not retired while leading the Singapore and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s. But even with those wins, McLaren’s best championship position was only fourth with Hamilton who also failed to finish five races, killing off any title challenge.

Hamilton (3rd) at the 2007 British GP

And titles are something McLaren have really struggled at getting their hands on in the post-millennium era with just the single championship in the past 16 years. They have also struggled to come close to adding to Hamilton’s 2008 title in the MP4-23 with Button’s second place in the 2011 championship the best position they have secured despite finishing a staggering 122 points off title-winning Sebastian Vettel. To find their last constructor title you have to go all the way back to the Mika Häkkinen days of 1998 with the MP4-13 that also won the driver’s title before Mika retained the driver’s title in the following year.

McLaren will be hoping they do not have to wait another eight years before adding another driver’s championship title to their impressive collection. But as it stands it could be a long wait, so where do they go from here?

Firstly, they need to keep faith in Honda. Over time the reliability issues will be sorted and they can turn the power levels all the way up. If they don’t keep Honda, what’s out there for them? They ditched Mercedes as they felt they could never challenge the works team with a customer engine so they reignited their historical relationship with Honda in a bid to one-day challenge. And they honestly think they can so why change again? It would be detrimental to their plans if they crawled back to Mercedes with their tail between their legs or go to Ferrari and ask for an engine while Renault decide what their long-term plans are with Formula One.

Not only this, Honda can work closely with McLaren in developing the engine and the car together as one. As they need to do in order to work the Honda power unit in to McLaren’s supermodel sized car that will show its benefits when the time comes and when everything clicks together. They just have to wait for that day to show itself and they can show the world why they were right all along.

But the drivers inside the car may be another factor McLaren will have to look at as the season ticks on. Button only has a signed contract for the 2015 season after taking a huge pay cut at the end of last year in order to remain at the team at the expense of Kevin Magnussen. Of course Jenson has an option with the team in his contract for either to extend it for another year but the longer K-Mag is held on the sidelines, the rustier he will become and not to mention Stoffel Vandoorne. The Belgian sensation is taking GP2 by storm this year after coming close to the title in his debut season in 2014. When, rather than if, Stoffel takes the GP2 title he will no longer be able to compete in the series and McLaren will need to find a seat for him to fill somewhere. Whether that be at a team struggling for finances or make the leap and put him in the F1 car like they did with Lewis after he won the GP2 title and Magnussen after he won the Formula Renault 3.5 title.

For this week at least, they will be focusing on putting on a show for their home crowd at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix and although they are far from contending for the win, a point will be a huge result for the team and fans. But there again, over the past five years they haven’t really challenged for the win at their home race with third the best they could manage back in 2010 before a few fourth placed finishes and a string of low point scoring positions & DNF’s.

Kyle Archer

The Sport Space

Ahead of the British Grand Prix, The Sport Space’s F1 writer Kyle Archer looks at the problems facing McLaren-Honda and what the future holds for the team.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the home of British motorsport, but what will this weekend’s race hold for Britain’s biggest Grand Prix team McLaren? They find themselves down in ninth place in the Constructors Championship with only Manor-Marussia behind them as they continue their battle to move through the field amidst endless reliability problems dragging them back down. But once they fix their issues, can they compete for championships again or will they still find themselves in the midfield?

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