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F1: McLaren's Fall From Grace

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375   //    04 Jul 2018, 19:31 IST

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The Glorious Days

Winning is a habit and who would know this better than the once mighty McLaren Formula-1 team. The reason I say ‘once mighty’ for a team of the repute of McLaren is solely on the assumption that there is no quick fix to the downfall the team has led itself into post-2014. The team that won 182 races, 12 Driver’s Championships and 8 Constructor’s Championships is struggling to qualify within the top 10 let alone win races.

Known to produce some of the best champions like Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton, the team had established itself as one of the trendsetters among the grid with its rich history of rapid and fast-paced innovation inspired by its founder Bruce McLaren.

Being the second most successful team in Formula One, the team in its present-day has lost direction which has resulted in the fans losing their optimism of seeing the papaya orange car fighting for podiums if not championships. 

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"Customer teams cannot win in F1"

Led by the best manager in motorsports, Ron Dennis, the team embarked upon its trophy-laden journey and conquered all that Formula One had to offer. Dennis joined the team in 1981 merging his Project Four Racing with McLaren. He oversaw the most dominant years of McLaren at the helm including the Senna – Prost rivalry that made the sport grab eyeballs globally.

Cut to present day and the team appears in all sorts of disarray having won nothing for the past four seasons. The team has suffered financially and has not had a title sponsor for the past four seasons. Moreover, its employees seem to have grown tired with the constant restructuring of the team's leadership, with Martin Whitmarsh resigning in 2013 in order to make way for the return of Ron Dennis only to spend a couple of seasons as the team principal before being sanctioned on a ‘gardening leave’ by McLaren’s shareholders.

This led to the appointment of the leadership triumvirate of Zak Brown (CEO), Jonathan Neale (COO) and Eric Boullier (Racing Director) in the hope that this direction would lead the team to compete for championships. 

Zak Brown was brought to the team from the perspective of solving the teams sponsoring problem. But that certainly looks an uphill task as the sponsors are clueless of the direction the team wishes to proceed in. The stepping down of Eric Boullier adds more drama to the complexity within the team as the team has agreed that it has quite evidently underperformed to its expectations after partnering with Renault in 2018.

This has resulted in Fernando Alonso losing credibility in McLaren’s ability to win podiums and as a result, he has shifted his focus on taking up projects in IndyCar and Le Mans Championships in search for the ‘Triple Crown’, a feat only achieved by the great Graham Hill.

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Quite interestingly, it was Ron Dennis who had in 2014 earmarked that “Customer teams cannot win in F1”. It was this claim that convinced McLaren to partner with engine suppliers Honda in a bid to recreate the glorious past that the two had achieved. The Honda divorce, after spending three seasons in the midfield, was more of a move to retain Fernando Alonso rather than a long-term solution to the engine problem.

Whatever direction the team manages to take after ousting Eric Boullier from the team, one thing is for sure that there are no clear-cut solutions for this once iconic team up until 2021 when the FIA redesign the regulations of the sport. Until then one can only hope that the team could make frequent appearances in the top 10. 

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