F1 07 review: McLaren

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Valencia launch, McLaren, 2007 | DaimlerThey were thrown out of the 2007 constructors’ championship, fined $100m, and face life at the poor end of the garages in 2008.

They signed a double world champion and the sport’s most exciting rookie for years, and the pair fell out horribly. Both missed out on the drivers’ championship by a single point.

Their appeal to have the results of the drivers’ championship changed failed because they filed the wrong type of appeal. And their every move, whether positive or negative, was dogged by a hopeless PR campaign that made them look inept, cynical and hypocritical.

It was an utterly wretched 2007 season for McLaren.

Bright beginnings

I’ve already looked at the vicious rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso and the question of whether Hamilton and Alonso were treated equally in two recent posts – so this article will look more closely at other areas of the teams performance.

The season began with a fresh new look for McLaren – a double world champion bringing the coveted number one with him to the team, a fresh-faced rookie, both resplendent in crisp white uniforms before a cheering crowd at the Valencia launch.

In testing the signs looked good – the MP4/22 was the only car that looked lie it could stay with the F2007 over long runs. Although Ferrari ran away with the first race, McLaren bounced back at Malaysia and claimed a one-two. Ferrari had been forced to change the underbody of their car following an appeal from McLaren – but the watching world did not yet understand the true significance of this development.

Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Monte-Carlo, 2007, 4Ironically, given what was to develop, it became apparent that the MP4/22 and F2007 were conceptually very different cars that performed well on different circuits. McLaren were untouchable around courses with short, tight corners like Monte-Carlo (where Alonso won) and Montreal (where Hamilton scored his maiden win).

Breakdown

But as its drivers forged ahead in the drivers’ championship the relationship between the pair was unravelling, and at the Hungaroring that in turn provided the catalyst for the FIA to renew their investigation into the team and ultimately to give them such a massive penalty.

Some have argued that McLaren had done nothing out of the ordinary. It was interesting to hear the team’s former designer Adrian Newey make the following remarks this week:

The fact is that there have been far bigger breaches of personnel taking info with them from one team to another in the past which have gone undetected or without penalty.

My personal opinion is that anything anyone can take with them in their head is fair game, but anything that is written or in electronic format is not.

It is clear that McLaren were guilty of the latter, ad if the governing body has indeed set a new precedent for punishing teams for using ill-gotten intellectual property, then Renault may well be concerned about the outcome of the investigation into McLaren’s appeal against them, due early in December.

The FIA threw McLaren one lifeline. Having offered their drivers immunity from punishment if they handed over any evidence they might have, the governing body could hardly turn around and punished the two drivers who had been incriminated – Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa.

What’s more, Bernie Ecclestone and others were not keen on seeing the highly marketable Hamilton kicked out of the championship for something he might not have had a part in. The FIA duly delivered an exemption from the drivers, allowing them to keep their points.

Relations between the drivers continued to collapse, with Alonso seldom passing up the opportunity to have a go at the team, and Hamilton eventually returning fire, questioning Alonso’s loyalty and openly wishing for him to leave.

Beaten at the last

Despite this the team remained competitive. At Monza, days before the second espionage hearing, they romped to a one-two with Alonso a clear winner from Hamilton, who rescued second with a smart pass on an injured Kimi Raikkonen.

But there were several occasions when the team’s strategic preparedness left a lot to be desired. Hamilton’s crew fouled twice on wet weather tyre strategy – first at the Nurburgring (switching to dries to soon) and most critically at Shanghai (switching to dries too late). The driver carries some responsibility for this, as does the team who were well aware of his lack of experience in this area.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Interlagos, 2007, 8 | DaimlerTheir failure to judge just how quickly Hamilton could wear through a set if tyres caught them out at Interlagos, where they ended up switching him to a three-stop strategy that proved the final nail in his world championship hopes.

Alonso only suffered one similar mistake on the team’s part all year (which was ironic given the hard time he gave them), when he found himself having to pit illegally under the safety car at Montreal, as did Nico Rosberg.

This was particularly peculiar as, only two weeks earlier, McLaren had gone to great lengths to ensure the same did not happen to Hamilton, which prevented the rookie from being able to challenge for the win and led to the accusation that McLaren had used team orders to favour Alonso.

I wonder what Ron Dennis thinks of the train wreck that his 2007 campaign became? Does he blame Mike Coughlan for his foolishness, or does he shoulder the responsibility for failing to create an environment where to commit Coughlan’s mistakes would be unthinkable?

Does he blame Lewis Hamilton for breaking the team’s instructions at the Hungaroring and tipping his team mate over the edge? Does he blame Fernando Alonso for failing to accept that the team were not showing favour to Hamilton? Or does he see a fault in himself, for failing to control two enormously talented and gigantically competitive rivals?

Dennis has said before that he takes defeat very badly and feels it as a physical pain. It is hard to conceive of a more total and more galling defeat than that McLaren suffered.

Does he have any appetite for the fight left in him?

Photos: Daimler

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21 comments on F1 07 review: McLaren

  1. “And their every move, whether positive or negative, was dogged by a hopeless PR campaign that made them look inept, cynical and hypocritical.” – I would say that they did not only look this way, this is what there were …

    seems you have a typo, ” fined 0m”, the fine was slightly higher :-)

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th November 2007, 9:02

    That’s really weird because it’s correct in the database. Sorry about the problem I’ll try to get that fixed…

  3. Nice site, i’ve added you to my blogroll.

    I found myself much more interested in F1 this year, probably down to Hamilton. Used to watch it a lot in the Damon Hill days so i guess i just need some British interest to keep me hooked. Button and Coulthard didn’t seem to have the same effect though!

    Looking forward to next season now, where do you think Alonso will end up? Renault?

  4. Ron, Ronster,Mr Dennis, he has some thinking to do. For his teams sake! While he is at it, he may also try to salvage some pride, reputation and face which he lost during the years proceedings.

    Alonso, yes, he spoke to public. I know i would raise hackles, if i were being pushed in such a way by my employer. However, i would try to see if it can be fixed before i actually do it, that is, make it a public spat(maybe never). Can’t get Alonso to comment on this, so no comments on what he did, or, did not.

    Lewis, come on, he went to stewards(Hungary), Monaco he raised his voice to such an extent that his beloved team were investigated, twice! No comments on China, but, i’d conclude that a driver is in control of proceedings on hand. If he thinks, it’s slippery and not drivable on current set of tyres, he should have gotten a new set of tyres. Pronto! However, we all know what happened. Lead diminished to nothing, then lo and behold, Kimi, he drove a few masterful laps and whizzed by him. Fuji, that drive behind the safety car and Schumacheresque chops(through out the year and then that rant at Spa about Alonso’s return of the complement), all that did not earn him much fanfare from his fellow racing drivers.

    McLaren, hmm, they seemed to have lost the part early on this year. To rest of the world, it was rather obvious, the fact that in which basket, Ron’s eggs were. Employee problems with Alonso, Coughlan, Hamilton and blah blah. Phew! If Macca is to return to its glory days and so under command of Ron, he has to see what is that, which is lacking. Obviously a lot! Define policies in a clear way for other employees(which i think should be in its place already) and then the Drivers(they need to work on that real bad). Equality is great, but merely mentioning it, so many times that one believes it and its sanctity, is no good. What happened after Monaco should not have gone unpunished(Hamilton’s defiance could and should have been punished). Hungary’s quali incident, thus, it could have been averted, perhaps. Remember, we are all humans and a little spanking works better than all else. Well, for once, that would have been equality being actioned. Who knows, all that was required to win the ’07 championship was that, perhaps. A lil’ bit of equality. Well ironic, isn’t it?!

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th November 2007, 11:03

    Who do you think should have punished Hamilton after Monaco? Any why?

  6. Ron, he should have reprimanded Hamilton from airing his views on team orders. Which is what led to one FIA investigation on Macca. Which of-course, got Macca some negative press, well from our own popular British Media.

    “At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” Hamilton said. “I’ve come into my first season in Formula One and I have finished second in my first Monaco Grand Prix, so I really can’t complain.

    “To see that I’m at a similar pace to Fernando is a positive for me, but it’s just something I have to live with. I have the number two on my car, and I am the number two driver.”

    There may be more to what Hamilton said, but could not bother digging all that up.

    Here in is my Source( of British Press putting Macca down):
    The Daily Mirror’s Byron Young wrote: “Lewis Hamilton gave his all yesterday for a race he was not allowed to win.

    “The 22-year-old’s Monte Carlo dream was sabotaged by the man who has done more than any other, apart from father Anthony, to turn him into a Grand Prix sensation. And yesterday that man – McLaren boss Ron Dennis – was unrepentant.”

    “The only thing as big as McLaren’s advantage here at this wonderful annual spectacle of speed and outrageous wealth is the size of the team’s misjudgment in preventing two born racers from duking it out.

    “They lost more – and the sport lost more – than they ever would have done had both cars been buried in the barriers in a tantalising battle for victory … we wanted a beautiful street mugging by Hamilton, instead he was the one who was robbed.

    “And, more importantly, so were the sport and its fans. Robbed of honour and pride and honesty and fair play.”

    Kevin Garside of The Daily Telegraph commented: “Rarely can a one-two finish have met with longer faces. The bitter taste of disappointment pinched the normally sunny features of Lewis Hamilton and cast a shadow across an otherwise triumphant day for McLaren, who scored their 150th Formula One win at the Monaco Grand Prix yesterday.

    “A team predicated on giving their drivers an equal crack at victory succumbed to an uncomfortable reality in Formula One. Sometimes purpose is not served by drivers going at each other as the finer principles of sport demand they should.

    “On this occasion Hamilton was the victim, his push for glory and the racing instincts that fuelled it badly neutered by instructions from above.

    “Team orders are banned in Formula One. A generous interpretation of events in the principality might accept McLaren’s justification for putting the brakes on their drivers.

    “Another view might see the enforced denial of a car chase around the streets of Monte Carlo as sacrilege.”

    The Daily Mail’s John McEvoy wrote: “Hamilton – and 130,000 spectators crammed around the harbour for motor racing’s showpiece event – were denied a proper race from the moment Hamilton emerged from his first pitstop to be informed of boss Ron Dennis’s instruction over the in-car radio.”

    Ed Gorman of The Times said: “Lewis Hamilton drove a fast and almost error-free race on the streets of Monte Carlo yesterday to finish second in the Monaco Grand Prix behind Fernando Alonso, his McLaren Mercedes teammate, but emerged disappointed and frustrated.

    “It was not his performance that irritated him but that of his team, who sent him out on a track on which it is almost impossible to overtake with a race strategy that gave him only the slimmest chances of winning.

    “What is more, any chance he had was taken away from him, mid-race, by a decision that prevented him from catching Alonso. Hamilton had planned to drive up to six laps longer on his first stint than the Spaniard – in which time he hoped to fly around this narrow and restrictive circuit – but he was called in after only three.”

    That’s precisely why, he should have been told to shut up and put up, by Ron(a father figure?) or someone in Macca, with relative influence on Hamilton. However, no, they wouldn’t. What an overwhelming example of equality Ron and his team Macca are. I remember even Kimi being reprimanded for his behaviour. That was when being passed out in front of a nightclub, well, fiddling with …. It was in the press you know it. That was when he was acting up, nowhere near a racing circuit, leave alone on it or after a race. Nor implicating team in any manner. He is/was a lad, after all and would do things, some which we may find silly. We all act silly, sometimes, don’t we? Or, has it been outlawed? Montoya’s crime was non-existent compared to that, for which he got some stick from Ron. Bringing his posse in to watch a race. Damn, if i was a racer, i’d want my family/friends to watch a race, if i can arrange for them. Nothing wrong with it, as far as i could see it. Yeah causes a lil’ disruption(as Ron pointed out), but, nothing compared to the hoopla after Monaco.

  7. When it comes to Montoya, he also commented, “Oh no, not Hamilton!”, when he got hear about Alonso’s pairing with him. I think it was not Hamilton’s speed that he was worried about. Any second guesses?

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th November 2007, 12:05

    So if it was wrong of Hamilton to suggest the team weren’t giving him equal treatment with Alonso when they were, was it also wrong of Alonso to do the same, which he did several times?

  9. In defense of Alonso, little can be said. Though i’d say his situation and actions are understandable. Not agreeable, however, they are understandable. As i implied earlier, you simply stop working for a bad employer(ok, i did not say it, but it always an option), than foulmouth him. Read comment 4, where i said, “However, i would try to see if it can be fixed before i actually do it, that is, make it a public spat(maybe never)”. So i do not agree with what Alonso did, though it is understandable that he was left with little or no choice.

  10. Reviewing the 2007 McLaren season from a data point of view and data is always a reliable indicator – rather than opinion and rumour – the constant complaint from Alonso that he was not treated with the respect he should have been bears some weight. In 2006 McLaren had the same engine supplier, presumeably more or less the same technical team at Woking, Lewis Hamilton testing the car. They did not win a grand prix all season. The major difference to the team in 2007 – Fernando Alonso. 8 Grand Prix wins. Whilst it is not ALL down to Alonso and credit must be given to Mercedes and McLaren technical people for the improvement, it does indicate that he has brought something valuable by way of driver input to McLaren that Hamilton (who has been there all his life) could not give them. Alonso certainly seemed to think so. It will be interesting to see how they get on next year. In the end its the results that count.

  11. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th November 2007, 13:11

    I agree that it’s difficult to say exactly how big a role a single driver plays in making a car competitive. Here’s a few of my thoughts.

    The initial development and first build of the car was done before Alonso joined the team. Given that they weren’t in the running for the title in 2006, McLaren probably invested more effort sooner in their 2007 car than, say, Renault, who admitted their 2006 campaign hindered their 2007 performance.

    The Mercedes engine was believed to have adapted better to the new rev limiters than many other engines.

    Alonso’s role in developing and improving the car would probably have been confined to what he could contribute after his first test for the team at the end of 2006. Like several other drivers (Kimi Raikkonen, Robert Kubica), he seemed to take a while to get the most out of the 2007-specification Bridgestone tyres.

    Alonso’s credentials in being able to work with engineers to develop a car into a race- and championship-winner are not in any doubt.

    At the Turkish Grand Prix Alonso said he was responsible for making the car 0.6s per lap faster. That’s a very difficult statement to prove or disprove if you don’t work for McLaren. For example, what circuit was he talking about? All teams generally improve their cars over the course of the season, so would other drivers also have improved the car by the same amount?

    Perhaps when we’ve seen how McLaren fare over the next two or three years we’ll have a better idea.

  12. The leap in performance from zero wins to eight is indicative not of an incremental improvement but a breakthrough. To say a driver’s input is indefineable is accurate to a point but not completely so. Nobody denies the impact Schumacher had on Ferrari; another example is the Yamaha Motogp team who won nothing for years until they hired Valentino Rossi. Nobody denies his impact on the team. Even Arrows almost won a race with Damon Hill at the wheel.

    McLaren would have hired Fernano Alonso to get that impact, to get the champion’s input – if he didn’t have that ability why hire him? Another thing that Alonso would have brought to the team would have been sponsorship – and without money, you cannot develop the car. I don’t think Hamilton brought very much at the start of the season :)

    It will be very interesting to see how the McLaren team manages next year. Let us not forget that it is 1999 since McLaren won a world championship – a long time. They don’t have another two or three years to play with really.

  13. I think that McLaren provides many examples of a poor managerial in a F1 team.

    The first one, is that they do the wrong bet: going with the rockie, when they had the world champion in the same team!…

    Hamilton shows how rockie he was when he lost the temper when Kimi overtakes him at China, and then when he lost the position to Kimi and Alonso in Brazil. Hamilton lost 17 points in the last two races, and both in errors made by himself, he can’t keep cool!

    At the end you could see declarations from Hamilton: he was happy to being second! after all, he was the rockie… if he thinks in that way, way not the team support Alonso? Ferrari do it with Kimi, and he is the new champion.

  14. Salva,

    The thing is is that nobody expected Hamilton to be this good in his rookie year.

    In McLaren’s defense, and I would rarely use such a phrase, if anything it would’ve been the ideal year to introduce Hamilton BECAUSE he is a rookie AND they have a World Champion (the one and only left on the grid at the time). Why? Because it would be the best learning experience for him.

    But there are a lot of ifs and buts this year surrounding McLaren. Certainly this season I’d say they had everything in the bag if only the word “team” meant anything. Their driver management leave a lot to be desired.

  15. McLaren don’t really seem to get the best out of their drivers.
    Kimi was expected to shine but had to go to the Scuderia for that chance, Coulthard is bitter about being left in Hakkinens shoadow, Montoya never shone and now Alonso is gone.
    Maybe there is something about the environment?

    The best thing they have done for 2007 is hired Matt Bishop to manage their media. They did an awful job of it this year and should never have allowed Alonso and Hamilton to create such a bias in the British and Spanish press.

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