hese are Interesting times for both Fernando Alonso and his new team, McLaren. I guess the last time 12 engineers were laid off in one day – as they were at McLaren in December – was probably when Eddie Jordan was selling up back in 2004. Not even Ferrari, at their scapegoating worst, have been so steely. Hence the pervading atmosphere of fear down at the MTC this winter. Who will be next? What did the 12 do wrong? I gather that the mantra at Woking at present is that talent is more important than experience. Interesting, as I say.
It’s also intriguing to see the perennial Ekrem Sami – a sort of Adrian Newey of sponsorship procurement – now working alongside Martin Reiss, an Eric Boullier commercial man from Lotus F1. This reects McLaren’s ongoing search for 2010-13 market-value title sponsorship, and underlines the changes taking place in the team. This power struggle will reect the one in the garage, where Fernando’s Ferrari engineer, Andrea Stella, will now rub shoulders with the likes of Phil Prew. And there are the matters of Honda Power and Alonso Presence – mini earthquakes in their own right, but in 2015 just parts of a heaving conglomerate.
So what can Fernando expect? The personnel count behind the Honda engine programme is currently relatively small (much smaller than he would have seen at Ferrari) and he’ll be surprised that Honda have chosen Milton Keynes as their UK base and not somewhere closer to McLaren. The Abu Dhabi 2014 test engine hadn’t run with the ERS installed prior to those abortive rst days, so one problem followed another.
The car was designed by former Red Bull man Pete Prodromou, but only to a point: it’s his front wing, but the chassis was signed off by Tim Goss before Pete could start the real work. Another neat irony, given Ron Dennis’s disdain for the Toyota F1 team: McLaren will keep using the Toyota windtunnel in Cologne for aero tests.
Fernando will just do his thing. He won’t try to change the methodology of McLaren or Honda, but you will see him extracting 100 per cent from the car at any given moment. He will take the short-term view: if it doesn’t work out he’ll be off to a quicker car for 2016; if there’s lots of pace and lots of promise then he’ll stay. He’s fortunate, after all, to have a McLaren-Honda to drive: gazumped by Vettel at Ferrari, rejected by Red Bull, Fernando was for a few weeks actually looking at temporary retirement. He wouldn’t have wanted to return to Woking on Ron’s terms but it’s done now.
Maybe, magically, the new car will be a Merc out of the box…