F1 IN­SIDER

Ex­pert opin­ion and anal­y­sis

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

Alas, the ev­i­dence so far is to the con­trary and times dur­ing the rst test sug­gested lack of power as the cause of slower laps, rather than any chas­sis short­fall. Alonso’s top speed on day one was 305.6km/h; chart-top­ping Daniel Ric­cia­rdo posted 330.1km/hmph.

Lay­ing all the blame at Honda’s door would be overly sim­plis­tic, how­ever. If an en­gine part­ner be­comes ‘strate­gi­cally sub-op­ti­mal’ (as Mr Dennis might have put it) then it be­hoves a team to en­force change – be that by nd­ing a new en­gine part­ner or by bat­ter­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness into them, as Red Bull did to Re­nault quite ruth­lessly through­out 2015.

It must be noted that pro­found change is afoot at this fa­bled team. The de­par­tures of Ron Dennis and his loyal com­mer­cial lieu­tenant Ekrem Sami will re­sult in a new di­rec­tion be­ing taken, as the likes of ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Zak Brown and COO Jonathan Neale ex­ert in­creas­ing inuence. But turn­ing a tanker takes time, and there’s a grow­ing sus­pi­cion that things might have to get worse for McLaren be­fore they get bet­ter; that a very bit­ter pill might have to be swal­lowed to ef­fect a cure.

Per­haps McLaren’s F1 ech­e­lon should be spun off into an en­tirely sep­a­rate en­tity, driven by the ‘Skunk Works’ men­tal­ity re­quired of a top race team, away from the jewel that is the McLaren Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre, and free to op­er­ate like a down-’n’-dirty race shop. Visit any other For­mula 1 team and you’ll be struck by three things: smell (the un­mis­take­able reek of fuel and metal lings); noise (a dis­tant air jack be­ing red up for pit­stop prac­tice); and in­dus­try (busy peo­ple go­ing about their busi­ness). This is how Red Bull, Mercedes, Fer­rari and Force In­dia op­er­ate: lean, un­clut­tered, phys­i­cally self-con­tained, from un­starry premises on the edges of un­re­mark­able towns.

At the MTC, mean­time, there is seren­ity. This in it­self is a won­der, as it’s still a fac­tory, even if it re­sem­bles some alien craft landed – ap­pro­pri­ately enough – on Horsell Com­mon, which was made fa­mous by The War of the Worlds. From its fu­tur­is­tic in­nards are spawned tech­no­log­i­cal won­ders, yet be­neath that shiny shell McLaren’s rac­ing mojo has gone miss­ing, for these fa­cil­i­ties that should be the envy of all have pro­duced only a sole world ti­tle – Lewis Hamil­ton’s in 2008.

McLaren is an or­gan­i­sa­tion crammed full of bril­liant, gifted and ded­i­cated in­di­vid­u­als, yet in F1 terms the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Might the un­think­able there­fore be about to hap­pen? Could di­vorce be on the cards, leav­ing Honda tainted by another lack­lus­tre F1 ad­ven­ture and McLaren forced into a shot­gun al­liance with a new en­gine part­ner? It seems al­most too shock­ing a propo­si­tion to en­vis­age, yet the sight in Barcelona of that mighty war­rior Alonso, un­able to com­pete in his cho­sen arena, was surely enough to make any fan think to them­selves: ‘Any­thing would be bet­ter than this.’

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