The key word for McLaren is ‘fo­cus’

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

The sto­ries F1’s big­wigs would rather you didn’t know…

TAG Heuer might only have been a watch spon­sor for McLaren, but the re­cent loss of this long­stand­ing and pres­ti­gious part­ner hit McLaren where it hurts most: in the ego. The pain of that blow was com­pounded by si­mul­ta­ne­ous news that the brand was headed for, in the words of their CEO, the “young, dy­namic and go-get­ter team” that is Red Bull.

Like Boss, lost last year, TAG Heuer had seemed an in­te­gral part of McLaren: al­ways there, some­where, on cars, driv­ers and back­drops. Both brands part­nered this proud­est of teams for three decades. They were syn­ony­mous with the likes of Ayr­ton Senna and Lewis Hamil­ton; with race wins and cham­pi­onships; with style, pre­ci­sion and qual­ity. Now they are gone, join­ing up­start grid ri­vals with barely a back­wards glance.

Forget lost rev­enue, for that can be re­cov­ered even­tu­ally: lux­ury part­ners pro­vide pres­tige, not prot. The pain lies in the abrupt re­jec­tion by long­stand­ing friends, and forces in­tro­spec­tion as to which brands will fol­low them out of the door. When, or where, will it all end? And how?

Falls from grace can be rapid: within a decade of win­ning ti­tles Brab­ham were gone; ditto, to all in­tents and pur­poses, Lo­tus. Re­nault were cham­pi­ons in 2005-06, but a shamed shadow of their for­mer selves by 2009. Cooper sur­vived their ti­tles by less than a decade. By such mea­sures McLaren have done well, last win­ning the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship in 2008 – al­beit in the last cor­ner of the last lap of the last grand prix. They also sur­vived the trau­mas of 2007’s ‘Spy­gate’ scan­dal and its as­so­ci­ated $100m ne.

Two years ago, af­ter then-McLaren boss Martin Whit­marsh was re­placed by the re­turn­ing Ron Den­nis, the team were promised a ti­tle spon­sor within “the next few events”. Yet to­day both driv­ers sport more tat­toos than their cars or over­alls bear stick­ers.

Put aside, for a mo­ment, 2015’s Honda tra­vails: 2014 was also fraught, as the team achieved only P5 in the con­struc­tors’ chase. Some blamed non-works Mercedes en­gines – down on power com­pared to their ‘works’ coun­ter­parts. But Wil­liams (P3) trounced McLaren, while Force In­dia (P6) ran them close us­ing iden­ti­cal power units – both on half McLaren’s bud­get and with­out hav­ing a world cham­pion in their cock­pits. Now, it seems, Vi­jay Mallya’s colour­ful team is on track to snare John­nie Walker. So how and where did it all go so wrong?

Con­sider that McLaren last won a con­struc­tors’ ti­tle in 1998, when op­er­at­ing from a hotch-potch of fac­tory units spread A re­turn­ing Ron Den­nis promised a ti­tle spon­sor within “the next few events”. It’s yet to hap­pen across Wok­ing’s in­dus­trial es­tate, not the space-age McLaren Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre. A sober­ing thought: this mas­sive site, once Europe’s big­gest pri­vately funded build­ing project, has so far failed to de­liver a sin­gle con­struc­tors’ ti­tle.

Therein lies a co­in­ci­dence – or maybe not. A year af­ter that 1998 cham­pi­onship, as McLaren lost the 1999 con­struc­tors’ ght to Fer­rari, the first sods were turned on the brown­field sites that to­day house the MTC, plus the equally fu­tur­is­tic struc­tures that are McLaren Au­to­mo­tive’s Pro­duc­tion Cen­tre, the McLaren-GSK Cen­tre for Ap­plied Per­for­mance, and McLaren Ap­plied Tech­nolo­gies. Saliently, none of th­ese oper­a­tions ex­isted back in 1998. Once be­fore McLaren had en­dured a win­less patch: 1994-96, when they were de­serted by a long-stand­ing spon­sor, Marl­boro, who had part­nered the team for al­most 30 years, yet trans­ferred their dol­lars to Maranello. The switch set in mo­tion Fer­rari’s hege­mony, which cul­mi­nated in six straight con­struc­tors’ ti­tles dur­ing a pe­riod that co­in­cided pre­cisely with MTC con­struc­tion oper­a­tions.

Back, though, to the 1990s. Is it co­in­ci­dence that dur­ing that win­less three-year pe­riod McLaren launched their sublime F1 road car, with pro­duc­tion com­menc­ing in late 1993, and then won Le Mans in 1995? And then as road-car pro­duc­tion wound down, so McLaren re­turned to win­ning.

Wil­liams last won ti­tles be­fore open­ing their Ad­vanced Engi­neer­ing busi­ness, and the ill-fated tech­nol­ogy cen­tre in Qatar and slumped to ninth in the or­der. WAE down­sized, Qatar closed, and – voila! – up to third. Fer­rari could up road car pro­duc­tion from 5,000 units to 7,000 an­nu­ally, or win F1 cham­pi­onships – but not both. The mes­sage is ob­vi­ous: McLaren – and they’re cer­tainly not alone in this – for all their many tal­ents, are un­able to mul­ti­task. Build ti­tle-win­ning For­mula 1 cars, Le Mans win­ners even? A given. Con­struct the stand-out au­to­mo­tive fac­tory? No prob­lem. Best road car ever? Sure. A ver­i­ta­ble com­peti­tor for Fer­rari and Porsche su­per­cars? Of course. Do all of this si­mul­ta­ne­ously? Clearly not. But, then again, who could?

“The mes­sage is ob­vi­ous: McLaren, for all their many tal­ents, are un­able to mul­ti­task”


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