The title alone is something I never thought I’d admit. I’m going to be completely honest with you readers… I’ve never liked McLaren. I always found them to be stuffy, a little bit overly-corporate, and they did a really good job of sucking all the charisma out of a young Lewis Hamilton when he was at his most charmingly innocent. Seriously, to me the greatest thing to come out of McLaren was Tooned. That shit was awesome.
McLaren’s struggles in the last two years of Honda power have been well documented, mocked, and exposed enough. But the latest tests in Catalunya seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The lowest amount of mileage, and multiple breakdowns, all while posting relevant emoji from Fernando’s new app. There’s actually a legitimate chance they could be worse than last year, with other teams around them seemingly making progress.
And that’s the craziest part about all this… I actually kinda feel sorry for them. Not because they’re failing, but ultimately WHY they’re failing, and the circumstances that lead to their struggle.
McLaren is victims of their own previous success. Because of such, they’re evaluated in the context of major titles… something they haven’t had since Lewis’ Drivers Title in 2008. They’ve not been the Constructor’s Champs’ since 1998. Often, they’ve been the victims of other teams cracking the code on the regulations. Early 2000’s Ferrari. Renault in the mid-2000’s. Then Red Bull in the 2010’s, even with one of their strongest ever teams with Button and Hamilton.
By the time we get to 2014, McLaren was essentially the 2nd in line, customer team. And even that wasn’t going to be enough. That’s the logjam McLaren were now in. Mercedes, their partner, and supplier, thought they could do a better job themselves. They did. And now McLaren’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Not good enough to beat the factory team, but also the gamble of changing to a different supplier and taking the early pain, because winning a title would be impossible any other way.
They buddy up with Honda, and… Well, you know the rest. Year 3 and they actually look worse than before they left Mercedes, falling behind Force India and Williams, teams they were comfortably better than in the V8 era.
The latest rumors suggest McLaren have got in touch with Mercedes about becoming a customer again, the first sign that the Honda experiment may be reaching its climax. Which also makes me sad because Honda has always had to play catch-up, to the tune of two years compared to everyone else. And in Formula 1 these days, where you often can’t go more than four or five years without a massive overhaul, the “law of diminishing returns” that often happens with car development, just isn’t fast enough. Especially given the talk these hybrids may not go past the end of the decade.
So yeah… Add all this up, and I kinda feel bad for McLaren. Not because they’re bad, but because they’re the biggest victim of the most dominant F1 car the sport may have ever seen. A car so broken, it’s forcing massive teams with nine-figure budgets to throw the conventions of an engine supplier partnership and throw them in the dustbin. And this is Year THREE of the McLaren-Honda return. I feel bad for Honda too. If this doesn’t work with a solid base team in McLaren, you have to wonder… why would anyone else take that chance unless Honda were giving them a significant “sloppy seconds” discount? Even if that’s the case, it would be like hooking up with an ex… You don’t want it as badly as you think you do.
But this is what F1 has become. These hybrids have probably caused more harm than good. Compromised overall enjoyment. Skyrocketed prices and damaged reliability by having twice as many moving parts. It’s already caused one ugly divorce between one of its greatest teams (Hint: They look like Dairy Milk), it’s already killed one team, and will probably put another one in the firing line. Furthermore, I’m not sure these hybrids will ever see themselves in conventional cars, outside of the sort you’d see Chris Harris powerslide on Top Gear.
I hope McLaren gets their shit sorted soon. I haven’t even mentioned Fernando Alonso yet. A Top 15 driver of all-time, and while I don’t cry for his awful career decisions and pleas for sympathy, even I admit, F1 is a hell of a lot more interesting when Alonso’s in a car he can actually win in… And that’s not really been a thing since the first half of the 2013 season. It’s getting to the point where it could be damaging his legacy, like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
*sighs* For the good of the sport, we need to be having more serious conversations about a balance of performance in F1. It’s easy to say Mercedes are amazing and pat them on the back for it and shut that discussion down, but when the ripple effect it leaves behind has damaging efforts for the sport as a whole… maybe it’s doing more harm than good.