The new era has begun at McLaren; the changes, which everyone was waiting for, has arrived, and everything looks absolutely like it should be. McLaren has a new engine, two champion drivers, a new aerodynamicist and a bag full of hope and faith. The recipe is one of the best in the grid, and it has all the promises to deliver the lost glory back at Woking. Ron Dennis has put up a great team together, and theoretically everything should be working fine. But the Jerez test proved everything doesn’t happen on paper.
Going the Honda pathway was always a gamble
McLaren decided to go for Honda power this year and this signaled the revival of the legendary combination; McLaren-Honda. This was certainly a huge gamble for McLaren, as this meant breaking up a long and a successful partnership with Mercedes. And with new V6 hybrid turbo era, it was always going to be a big decision to replace the German manufacturers. In hindsight and with Mercedes power unit’s performance last year, there might be a notion that the team has made a mistake, or at least taken a huge risk. The recent runs with the new Honda engine have nothing but proved that.
But there is also a sense of comfort that some people, at least at some levels of McLaren, knew some bit and pieces about the Mercedes V6 power units from last year. Which can always be beneficial for Honda, but how much, that is still to be seen. That said, apart from the sport’s current contemporary engine manufacturers; Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari, you would always place bets on Honda to make an engine which is worthy of Formula 1, doesn’t matter if some knowledge is transferred or not.
The sad failure at the Jerez test
It was quite clear from last year’s end-season test at Abu Dhabi that McLaren and Honda have to work extra hard in order to rectify the problems the engine was facing. And coming to Jerez, all eyes were on the McLaren garage, but as it seemed, those eyes were left disappointed. The team only managed a total of 79 laps distributed between their drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. Surprisingly, this was not the total of a single day; this was the total for 4 days of testing. In comparison, Mercedes AMG did around 500 plus laps in total at the same time.
Even though, it has been said that the V6 unit Honda have is fundamentally right and has all the tenets of being a great power unit. But the problem for Honda seems to be with the engine’s electronic and electrical components, and they were the main culprit for the first two days of the test at least. Although when these were rectified, for that time being, other engine related issues raised up. Though these are still early days, and last year even Red Bull and all the other Renault-powered teams, faced a similar degree of issues, hence optimism is still in the air at McLaren.
The team is still upbeat about the new season
McLaren believes they have a strong car, and their new tightly-packed rear end MP4-30 looks like a competitive package. In fact, the team was quite happy with the car’s ability to sustain overheating issues despite the size zero rear end. Even the feedback from the drivers about the car is quite excellent and the aero data from it looks promising. It was also revealed that the team was never running at hundred percent with the Honda engine, whenever they were able to run the car anyway. However, that might have been because of reliability fears too.
The team still believes that they can collectively sort out the issues before the start of the season, and going by historical evidence, you can easily put your money over them. Regarding the issue of optimism, Dennis said the following: "Honda is a phenomenally committed company and the challenge that we face together as we approach the 2015 season is just huge," The Brit then talked about rectifying the issues along with Honda before reaching Australia.
Rivals have sorted things out
Another thing which McLaren will be worried about is that, apart from Mercedes’ continuing dominance, even Ferrari seems to have come up with a package which is fast and reliable. If Ferrari can challenge up front and McLaren struggle, this would be a huge “egg in the face” for the team.
And the Alonso factor will always play out in their minds. The pain will also be greater because of the traditional history these two teams have shared in the sport. Besides this, it also because of the fact that both the teams, in the last couple of years, have not been performing the way they should be. McLaren won’t also be happy with the fact that Williams, their British rivals, are again set for a season where they can possible fight for podiums at the least.
Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst
McLaren were dead last at testing, and, even though. the team clocked up some laps, the whole picture looks very challenging at the moment. Australia cannot come slowly enough for the team, and the fear of underperformance will be engulfed in every fan’s mind. McLaren-Honda has to come strong and deliver the goods as soon as possible. If these are what they are calling as teething problems, then they have to mature this "situation" fast. As a few laps under their belt is not a matter of joy for the team which was hoping to challenge the Silver Arrows.
Also, as per rules, Honda has to submit their homologation to the FIA, but the team, thanks to some strong negotiations, can develop certain parts of the engine throughout the season. This is more than assuring as after the remaining two tests, the team flies away to Australia for the opener. So time is certainly on their hands thanks to the in-season developments, but they have to make most of it. One thing is for sure, the season-opening Grand Prix for McLaren, sadly, will be just about a race of reliability rather than of; competing at the top.