Rise of McLaren – Is the British Formula One racing team back?
By Drew F. July 10 2019
McLaren’s fall from grace started in the 2013 season. Prior to that, the British race team finished 13 out of 15 Formula One seasons in the top three.
Since then, it has been a steady decline for the Woking-based Formula One team with plenty of blame placed on their three-year partnership with engine supplier Honda. The team had parted ways with long-time partner Mercedes for a chance at a fresh start. On paper, Honda was a good fit since the pair had enjoyed success during an earlier partnership.
The team’s poor performances and continual problems with cars caused friction with former driver Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard walked away from Formula One last August with plenty of Formula One fans and pundits wondering ‘what if’ he hadn’t been robbed of four years by McLaren.
Alonso never finished on the podium of any Formula One grand prix during his four years with McLaren. A note that should be incredibly embarrassing for a race team that was so dominant from 1998 to 2012.
On the comeback trail
Now with Alonso gone and McLaren in their second year of a partnership with engine supplier Renault, the team is making a comeback in Formula One. Drivers Carols Sainz Jr and Lando Norris may be well off the pace for the championship, but the duo has performed well, and hopes are high that they can continue picking up points.
Sainz and Norris are in seventh and eighth place, respectively, after nine races. Their race performances have them in front of the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Daniil Kyvat and on the verge of entering the standings top six.
McLaren should be thrilled with their current rise. Last season saw the constructor post a sixth-place team performance with a combined total of 62 points courtesy of Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. With 52 points, Sainz and Norris are on the verge of topping that figure with just nine races run.
Both drivers look likely to finish the Formula One season with a better final standings position than Alonso last season. The Spaniard managed a mere 11th place.
The best of the rest
McLaren was called “the best of the rest” in June following solid performances by Sainz and Norris in France and Austria. McLaren’s improvements may not have the team as a contender for the championship, but the progression has been very significant from where they were this time last year.
In Austria, McLaren took its second straight double points score. The team has made changes and developed the cars over the course of the season, and solutions to long-term problems may have been found.
The Formula One team is just over a year removed from ‘Freddo-gate’ when it hit a new low in embarrassing headlines. Now, with Sainz and Norris improving on the track, do the McLaren duo have a chance of catching the top six?
Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly has struggled this season and sits only 13 points in front of Sainz. If the Spanish driver can catch Gasly in the standings, it will be a major coup for McLaren. But is it realistic that McLaren is capable of competing with the top three race teams once more?
According to McLaren executive Andreas Seidl, McLaren will only be able to compete with the top three if and when a budget cap is placed on Formula One. His comments have thrown cold water on the improvements made by McLaren and performances of their drivers. A budget cap can make the playing field more level, but those comments take some of the shine out of the advances the team has made on the racetrack.
The British team hasn’t won a Formula One race since 2012, and until financial measures are in place, Seidl doesn’t feel his drivers can compete on the same level. Seidl has claimed that McLaren “underachieve” with their immense infrastructure and finances.
Regardless of a budget cap, McLaren is on an upward trajectory and can continue their progression with a strong finish to the season. Continuing on their current path may mean re-signing Sainz and Norris to new deals. Both drivers have already been confirmed for the 2020 season.
Norris is one of Formula One’s young guns and could be the future of the motorsport. But can he win a Formula One championship, or even a race, in a McLaren car?
Sainz and Norris are both under 25-years old and offer McLaren a bright future if the racing team can continue to make car improvements. McLaren may not be back to the levels they were at in 2012, but they can still challenge the top three. With further upgrades and developments by the team, McLaren could shake things up in 2020.