McLaren are about to enter arguably one of the most important seasons in the constructor’s long and famous history in Formula 1, writes Adam Davern.
They experienced a miserable year last time out, failing to secure a single top three finish in what was their worst performance as a team since 1980. Mexican Sergio Pèrez proved to be a disastrous signing for the team following Lewis Hamilton’s departure, collecting just 49 points and finishing a disappointing eleventh in the Driver’s Championship, causing plenty of controversy along the way as a result of his aggressive driving style. Team-mate Jenson Button also failed to make much of an impression, placing ninth, his worst performance since driving for Honda in 2008.
Changes clearly needed to be made and McLaren have made plenty over the past few months. Former Lotus Formula One team principal Eric Boullier has announced that he will be joining McLaren in the newly created role of Racing Director, with Ron Dennis returning to take overall control, replacing the departing Martin Whitmarsh. Boullier, who led Lotus to fourth in the Constructor’s Championship last season despite their financial struggles has said “I regard this appointment as an honour, a privilege and a wonderful opportunity”. Twenty-one year old Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen will be taking the driver seat of Sergio Pèrez, following the Mexican’s poor form last season. Magnussen is a product of McLaren’s Young Driver Programme and will hope to adapt as quickly as Hamilton did upon his promotion back in 2007. There have also been changes on the sponsorship side of things, with Vodafone deciding not to see out the final year of their seven-season contract with the team, citing a desire to reconsider its commercial opportunities as the reason for their withdrawal. McLaren have yet to find a title sponsor to replace the telecommunications company.
The unveiling of their new car at their HQ for the 2014 season was uncharacteristically low-key for the constructor, who usually has preferred much more lavish launches in the past. Featuring a new nose design, which conforms to new safety regulations, the MP4-29 also features a narrower front wing in line with the 2014 regulations and a sole exhaust. Bigger side-pods have also been included to ensure adequate room for the new V6 turbo engine and energy recovery systems. 2009 World Champion Jenson Button has approved of the car’s new appearance – “There has been a lot of negative press about the way the cars look but personally apart from the funny little bit at the front which is in the regulations, our car looks beautiful”.
The early signs of pre-season testing at Jerez have been quite positive so far. Having failed to make it out of the garage on day one, Button and McLaren put their frustrations behind them by finishing the second day with the fastest time ahead of the likes of Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and Nico Rosberg of Mercedes. Button was one of the first drivers out on the Spanish track, setting the best lap of 1m 24.165s while also completing an impressive 49 laps in the new car. Meanwhile, on day three, Magnussen stunned his fellow drivers by finishing fastest on his first Formula 1 outing. The Dane’s lap time of 1m 23.276s trumped his more experienced rivals and he believes that he can go even quicker in the future – “It wasn’t a balls out type of lap, we weren’t pushing, we are still trying to learn about the car. So we will go quicker”.
With a new team principal, a rookie driver, a former World Champion, the return of a former team leader plus a new title sponsor yet to be announced, who knows what will happen at McLaren this year? Whatever happens, you can guarantee that it is going to be exciting.
Adam Davern, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Gil Abrantes (Flickr: IMG_7869.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.