There’ll surely be some nervous nellies at McLaren as the cars roll out for first practice at the F1 season-opener at Albert Park. It is only then that the team will get a real idea as to what kind of progress Honda has made on the power unit front. It will be a tense moment, because in the wake of the exodus of swag of its sponsors after the disaster of last season, McLaren surely cannot afford another uncompetitive year.
But Ron Dennis and his team can take some comfort from the fact that, statistically, Australia has proven a happy hunting ground for McLaren over a long period.
McLaren is the most successful marque in the 88-year history of the event. The first of 12 AGP wins by McLarens was as long ago as 1970 (when Dennis was still a mechanic at the Brabham team) with a Repco-Holden powered Formula 5000 M10B driven by the late, great Frank Matich.
The next three McLaren victories came after the race’s 1985 elevation to the World Drivers’ Championship, and all three of those culminated in the final round at Adelaide with world championship wins for McLaren drivers.
In 1986 Alain Prost scored a victory that sealed a surprise world title (he’d only been an outside mathematical chance behind the two Williams drivers, but they were both struck down by separate tyre issues). Two years later Prost won again, but only as team-mate Ayrton Senna clinched the Drivers’ title (and McLaren bagged the Constructors’).
Then in ’91 Senna scored his first AGP win as he celebrated his third world championship success, while McLaren took out its fourth successive Constructors’ title with engine partner Honda – using three different Honda engines: firstly the 1.5-litre V6 turbo, followed by the 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V10 and V12.
The glorious history of McLaren and Honda together in F1 has rarely shone as brightly as it has down under – might we see the flicker of the beginning of a new golden McLaren-Honda era at Albert Park this year?