McLaren are starting a season with a totally new driver line-up for the first time ever while under the command of Ron Dennis. They are willing to embrace radical change to win.
But will the exciting combination of champion Fernando Alonso and rookie Lewis Hamilton have a sufficiently fast and reliable car at their disposal?
When the four year-old partnership of McLaren and Mercedes swept the championship titles in 1998, it seemed as if Formula One was on a new cusp of McLaren domination to rival its successes of 1984-1991.
Even with the power of Mercedes and the design ingenuity of Adrian Newey, McLaren staggered between states of competitiveness – fast but fragile one year, slow but fragile the next. After flirting with Jaguar, Newey eventually left for Red Bull.
McLaren are the most opaque of teams to try and get a handle on from the outside looking in – and that is just what the man at the helm, Ron Dennis, would wish. In the McLaren Technology Centre he has a facility par excellence devoted to the task of refining race cars.
But his legendary attention to detail has not been evident in the fallibility of his cars – just that crucial fraction short of the breathtakingly high standard set by Ferrari and, since 2005, matched by Renault.
As with every team making the switch from Michelin, predicting form is hard. McLaren’s speed in 2005 came from the fact that the car was kind to its tyres – precisely why they lacked pace in 2006, when tyre stops returned and nursing the rubber for a race distance became worthless.
Unlike Renault, McLaren have more recent experience of the Bridgestone product (2001) and in testing appear to have acclimatised more quickly.
They were more competitive in 2006 than a disillusioned Juan Pablo Montoya and a Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen made them look. In Alonso and Hamilton they have a world champion immensely proud of his reputation and renowned for his relentless race pace, and a rookie determined to prove his worth beyond the endless hype that has surrounded him since winning the McLaren drive.
With the resources they have at their disposal a repeat of the winless 2006 would be utterly intolerable for McLaren. Regular wins and a strong title bid is the minimum they will expect this year.
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