McLaren MP4-26 launch, Berlin, 2011

McLaren start 2011 with doubts over radical car

2011 F1 season previewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine


McLaren MP4-26 launch, Berlin, 2011
Car: MP4-26
#3 Lewis Hamilton
#4 Jenson Button
Form 2006-2010: 3rd, DQ, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd
2010 points: 454

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have dropped hints in recent days that all is not well with the new McLaren.

The team have blown hot and cold in recent years. Concern over the new car will inevitably raise fears they are heading into another of their ‘cold’ seasons.

Just two years ago they started the season with a car that wasn’t able to reach Q2 on some occasions. In 2006 they failed to win a single race and their 2004 season was only saved by a substantial redesign of the car.

The MP4-26 is radical in design both outwardly – with its unconventional U-shaped sidepods – and underneath, where the team have tested an unusual exhaust solution. But the team have had a slow start to testing and have struggled to get the mileage they need.

Next week’s final test session in Barcelona should give further clues into how serious the problem is. The worst-case scenario is their championship chances may be over before the first race has even started.

Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2011
Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2011

What makes it particularly difficult to tell is that McLaren have taken a different approach to the off-season than their rivals have.

Most teams had their regular drivers on hand for the first run on the new Pirelli tyres in Abu Dhabi at the end of last year. Similarly, most had their new cars ready for the first test at Barcelona.

McLaren, however, ran Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey at Abu Dhabi, and turned up at Valencia this year with last year’s car.

In theory, the advantage of that approach is that it gave their drivers a chance to experience the new tyres in a chassis they were familiar with.

The disadvantage is they’ve put less mileage on their new car than their rivals. At the time of writing Ferrari have covered twice as much distance with their new car as McLaren have with theirs.

McLaren have repeatedly demonstrated that their excellent resources allow them to bounce back after starting the season with a car that’s off the pace.

Other aspects of the rules changes should play into their hands. The Mercedes Kinetic Energy Recovery System was the best in 2009 and McLaren won two races with it.

And after several years of chopping and changing drivers they appear to have settled on a pairing that are both fast and get on well. The strength of their driver line-up was the difference between them finishing second instead of third last year.

Whether Hamilton and Button will be fighting for wins, podiums or just points this year remains to be seen.

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