Team: McLaren Mercedes (third in 2012 constructor’s championship)
2012 Drivers: Jenson Button (188 points, fifth place in 2012 driver’s championship), Lewis Hamilton (190 points fourth in championship, now with someone else, McLaren still can’t bring itself say whom)
2013 Drivers: Jenson Button (Car Number 5) and Sergio Perez (6)
New Car: It’s often hard to tell the difference between last year’s cars and the new ones; most are simple evolutions. The McLaren MP4-28 is not. It is very new. There is a stepped nose there, hiding under a modesty panel. That means McLaren have now followed the other teams in lifting the front of the moncoque as far off the track as possible to better let the wind get at its complex aerodynamics.
The team has also followed Ferrari by turning the front suspension upside down and going for a pullrod arrangement. That particular solution was behind many of Ferrari’s early season problems in 2012. But McLaren’s thinking is simple; if it had stuck with last year’s car, there would come a point when there was simply no more development left in it.
Well… yes, but it does mean it’s incumbent on the MP-4-28 to be quicker than the 27 from the get-go.
What McLaren says about its 2012 season: “First I was afraid, I was petrified….”
What we say about 2012: Lewis Hamilton wasn’t pushed, so did he jump or did he run away? McLaren had the fastest car at the start of last season, and the fastest car at the end. Mistakes and reliability issues cost it possible, maybe even probable, titles. Worse, it cost them the loss of one of three drivers in F1 who can deliver with talent what it costs millions of pounds to deliver in engineered performance.
Yes TopGearers, we really rate Lewis here. How can you not? The man who almost won the title in his first season, and did in his second? That kind of talent doesn’t go away. But we do also see he is rather sensitive for a sportsman so on top of his game. Would he have stayed if McLaren hadn’t mis-fuelled the car in Spain, or had it not broken down in Singapore? Combined with the Abu Dhabi fail, there’s 75 points for you there…
And how will Jenson Button get on without Lewis to benchmark himself against? Signing Perez now seems rash. The man’s stock seems to have fallen from the moment the contact arrived; it’s difficult not to conclude that McLaren has suffered significant damage in the talent dept. Still, the engineering resource is intact… Ah, no it’s not, is it? Paddy Lowe, former technical director, is taking a year out before joining Lewis at Mercedes. And before you suggest that last year’s issues might indicate that change was needed there, our take is that the problem was at the racetracks, not at the MTC.
What McLaren has to do to impress us this year: For us, anything other than a championship is a fail for McLaren, although, somehow, that seems like a huge ask for Button or Perez. The car cannot afford to break. The team cannot afford to screw up pitstops. They simply have to keep development heading the right direction. We’d love to see a second title for Button. But beating Vettel and Alonso? That’s a big ask. This will be a tough year for McLaren. Is Perez the mega-talent McLaren needs to replace Hamilton? If he isn’t, then the team needs to prove itself good enough again to sign a top three driver.
If you pay any attention to testing… You’d be as confused as we are and, apparently, are McLaren. On its day (the first day at Jerez with JB, and the first day at Barcelona with ‘Checo’), the car flew. On others it didn’t and, worryingly, that look returned to Jenson’s face. By the end of the last test, Jenson was fifth and Perez 15th. But, let it not be forgotten that McLaren went to Melbourne last year similarly unconvinced of its own pace, then blew everyone away.
Who are McLaren really racing this year? Themselves? It wasn’t absence of pace versus Red Bull and Ferrari last year that lost McLaren the title, just its inability to always join up all that talent, all that thinking and all that resource once the cars were unpacked on a Thursday…