McLaren start 2011 with doubts over radical car

2011 F1 season preview


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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120 comments on McLaren start 2011 with doubts over radical car

  1. Dave said on 7th March 2011, 16:06

    Sorry. But it has to be said sarcasm doesn’t really work on the internet, all about delivery and tone of voice. ( even said so in the definition when I was checking my spelling.)

    Those who said Mclaren need a management reshuffle and concentrate less on PR should wise up. That team has rarely been out of the top 3 for the past decade and radical designs are a risk. look what happened with the 18 which came good with the 20. Having to take risks is when a single team has a performance advantage like Ferrari had during the 17 – 19B and like Red Bull have now.

    Mclaren also have a striking Livery just like Ferrari and Renault last year. All very tidy and uncomplicated where as I hate the Red Bull and Toro Rosso including Williams after the end of the Rothmans deal. But hey thats my taste.

    I actually prefer the old West livery and Molborro Livery but I don’t think the latter would suit the current cars.

    • NJB said on 7th March 2011, 22:10

      Good to hear your opinion but you don’t offer any facts that I am not already aware of so I disagree that I need to ‘wise up’ to your argument.

      Consistently finishing in the top 3 over the past decade in no way represents a respectable return on investment when that only includes 1 WDC (with the aid of Ferrari data) and 0 WCC. Ron Dennis himself always believed anything less than victory as a failure.

      I supported Mclaren from 92 until I finally lost faith with them in 07. To me they are a shadow of what they once were – all style and little substance with a large measure hubris thrown in.

      On the livery – I too liked the marlboro and west liveries but now they’re just squatting on mercedes’ silver. They need to create their own identity especially now they are moving into road car manufacturing.

  2. Obviously they should have gone with a bodacious design rather than a radical one. Hell, even a gnarly design might work.

    Tubular probably would have been a bad move, though.

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