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. powerline2007 said on 21st November 2007, 4:45

    I think the Mclaren team will come out better & stronger in 2008. Ron & the rest of the management team are no fools. In 2007 they got nailed by a whiner, a dumb design engineer & a clearly biased FIA.

    The rest of the European continent & the other side of the Atlantic have a general dislike for anything that’s British – be it Silverstone or Mclaren.

    2008 will be exciting with improvements from BMW & perhaps from Red Bull too. Renault still sucks.

  2. To Mark!

    Couldn’t agree more mate, with what all you said about the environment in McLaren.

    Matt Bishop was doing a better advertising job for McLaren, with his Mcfan circular, sorry F1Racing magazine. Biased coverage favouring McLaren throughout the year(of course, some articles, as usual, were brilliant).

    To powerline2007!

    Hi, am an Indian and no, we(or for that matter anyone) do not hate everything that’s British, whether Silverstone or McLaren. Nor do most of Europeans. We like Jeremy, Silverstone, In-fact, to start with, McLaren-Mercedes had a larger fan following in India, than Ferrari (mid 90’s till the end of the decade).

    Yes, we do not like your biased press, but then who would? Even some British fans were crying hoarse about it and not without reason.

    Let’s hope that Heidfeld is able to Nick a few wins. Long time coming and he deserves to be successful!

  3. hey… forgot to mention the almighty Stig! sorry, am a huge fan!

  4. powerline2007 said on 21st November 2007, 9:25

    Sri, so the British press is biased. Is the Indian press any better then? You’re perhaps too jaundiced with prejudice to see the difference. The reason why some British fans are crying hoarse about the saga only goes to show the openness of the British press. By the way, I’m not a Brit.

  5. powerline2007 said on 21st November 2007, 9:29

    Oh Sri by the way, I’m an American who happens to love & own a Mercedes. You don’t own a Ferrari do you?

  6. To powerline2007!

    In Jeremy’s own words. Grab a can of beer, a burger and relax first. Now, could you not say something, anything, without making it personal? Never-mind. Good for you that you own a Mercedes. Yes, i do not own a Ferrari, but, it was not about that, or, was it? My apologies to have had assumed that you were British.

    I never once said, that Indian press is any better, in-fact, we have a problem on our hands. However, would you side with yours, if they weren’t up-to the task? I doubt it. As for your allegation, about me being jaundiced with prejudice(you rhymed it for me funny eh), well, could you quote me saying something prejudiced, for once? If you did not get it, i was for once, praising the ones, the Britishers who were open in their criticism, of Macca’s doing over the year and about the press, which went completely bonkers.

    To begin with, it is not my intent to nail the British media for everything that they do. As far as my criticism of British media is concerned, it is because, they single handedly, are in control of most things F1, as far as media is concerned. Which in itself, is not enough for me to criticise them. However, if they were to act prejudiced, then it becomes a different issue. Then it could actually helps form opinions, which sometimes is right, sometimes otherwise. Which is my only concern. Their purpose is to inform, not misinform, which is what some(understatement) of them ended up doing this year.

    Oh, if you are wondering about my comments on Matt Bishop, please read F1Racing’s November issue’s editorial. Or, any of the issues this year, where most fans were questioning McLaren’s actions and the magazine were all in defense.

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