Expert opinion and analysis
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 inuence. 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.’