F1: Why 2018 will be more challenging for McLaren than last three years
“Now we can fight” – the radio crackled up as the orange MCL33 of Fernando Alonso crossed the chequered flag at P5 in the season opener Australian Grand Prix, giving hope to the team and fans that the team had finally turned a page after three disappointing seasons.
Fast forward to race no 8, the results so far have belied any hope of a turnaround for McLaren. The team hit the nadir yesterday at the French Grand Prix qualifying with both cars getting eliminated in Q1, a full 1.5 second adrift of Red Bull, with which they share a common engine. Both the Mclarens failed to score points in the French GP, Alonso retired in the last lap of the race but was classified in the finishers while his teammate Vandoorne managed to finish 12th
The pressure is definitely on McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier as the 2018 season has certainly turned out to be exactly opposite what they had hoped for at the start, under his stewardship. And despite the 5th position McLaren is holding onto in the Constructors, this season could still be worse than previous ones for the following reasons:
1. Chassis exposed: While the Honda power unit was no winner, McLaren clearly failed to acknowledge the possibility of a poor design at their end, shifting the blame entirely to the engine partner. The lackluster performance with the new Renault PU should remove any doubt about the non-competitiveness of the MCL33, especially after the same power unit has propelled Red Bull to two race wins so far. After getting eliminated in Q1 in the French GP, Alonso described the car as "missing performance, missing grip, speed and the pace".
2. Financial Setback: With the Honda divorce, the team not only lost the status and perks of being a works team but also funds to the tune of $100 million that was contributed by the Japanese partner each year. Moreover, F1 pundits believe that McLaren will have to shell out a substantial amount for prematurely severing the deal with Honda.
3. Talent Retention: Despite probably being one of the two slowest cars on the grid, the fifth position McLaren currently holds on to in the constructors is largely because of clinical driving by Fernando Alonso. But with things not working for him in F1 and the lucrative opportunities in WEC and IndyCar, there is a very real possibility of him leaving F1 altogether at the end of the season. Attracting a world-class replacement would be almost impossible for the team but for shelling out truckloads of money to ‘buy’ one.
4. Resurgent Honda: Honda powered Toro Rosso have achieved a P4 and P7 so far in the season and in the latest French Grand Prix Qualifying the STR13 was about 0.5 seconds faster than the MCL33. Questions are bound to be asked whether ditching Honda was the right move for McLaren.
The only solace the team can have at this time is that they are now fully aware of the situation around them. With the veil of illusion lifted, they now must acknowledge and attack each problem with all they have. Certainly a big task, but definitely possible.