McLaren’s MP4-28 proves a step too far in dire season

2013 F1 season review

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It’s been a feature of McLaren’s form for several years now that they tend not to have indifferent seasons. They have good years and bad – and their latest campaign quite emphatically was the latter.

McLaren ended 2012 with the quickest car and back-to-=back wins in the final two rounds. As 2013 was essentially a stopgap year before new regulations arrived it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see them use a straightforward evolution of the MP4-27, with which they won as many races as Red Bull last year.

McLaren team stats 2013

Best race result (number)4 (1)
Best grid position (number) 6 (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 0 (0/0)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,242 (98.77%)
Laps led (% of total) 8 (0.7%)
Championship position (2012)5 (3)
Championship points (2012)122 (378)
Pit stop performance ranking4

Instead the decision was taken to pursue a radical change in direction with the MP4-28. It’s easy to criticise that call in hindsight but the team believed the development potential of the previous car had largely been tapped and a new direction was needed.

Even so there must have been a few people at McLaren who looked at what Red Bull achieved with their ‘RB8-B’ and felt that could have been them. By the end of the season McLaren hadn’t started a single race inside the top five and they never crossed the finishing line higher than fourth place – something they hadn’t failed to do since 1980.

Jenson Button has driven far worse cars than the MP4-28 in his F1 career and often seemed to wring the best out of the car, even if that was usually a finishing positions in the second half of the points.

But for Sergio Perez the season was a crushing disappointment. Handed his big break with a top team he ended up driving a car that was less competitive than the Sauber he had last year – and to cap it all he was given the boot at the end of the season.

It remains to be seen how far that was a reflection on Perez’s performance and how much of it was down to McLaren’s eagerness to get Formula Renault 3.5 champion Kevin Magnussen in the car. He impressed the team during the Young Drivers’ Test and seems to have got on better in the team’s simulator – an area where Perez was playing catch-up having not had access to one at Sauber.

A somewhat overlooked aspect of McLaren’s season was that while they dropped the ball horribly when it came to car performance, they successfully eradicated last year’s reliability problems, and both their drivers finished every race. But in an era when near-bulletproof reliability is the norm from the front to the back of the grid, that alone was never going to get them very far.

While the team endured a woeful year on the track, there was significant development off it which will keep them smiling into the off-season. Honda have been enticed back to F1 as their engine supplier from 2015, giving them the manufacturer backing which may prove what they need to becomes F1’s class leaders once again.

McLaren drivers 2013 race results

Jenson Button917510861213676107891412104
Sergio Perez1191169161120891112810155976

McLaren’s 2013 season in pictures

2013 F1 season review

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Images © McLaren/Hoch Zwei

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “McLaren’s MP4-28 proves a step too far in dire season”

  1. It seemed to be a replay of 2009 for McLaren this year, but no major changes to the rules came into play like it did in 2009 after a championship winning season (driver’s title) in 2008. So it is even more frustating that a team of this capacity went too far in their direction change.

    We knew from day one – pre-season testing – the Woking based team was not in the pace, and it became clear in Australia they’d need a massive rethink of their car. I was a tough year, a very tough one. But they worked even harder than the result describes and it shown promises at the end of the year.

    Mention to a team I love.

    1. I thought on day 1 of pre-season testing, they looked pretty fast…

      … But that’s because they put a part on backwards!

      (Or so I remember)

      1. Yep, suspension part I believe. So we knew from day 2 of pre-season testing :D

    2. That said, the MP4-28 is even worse than 2009’s MP4-24 since that car went on to win a couple of races, whereas this season’s car was really nowhere.

      They’ve even had to make last-minute changes before (remember their octo-exhaust from 2011?) and still end up with a decent car. 2013 was a very unusual year for these guys… I haven’t had the same love for them as I had when Hamilton was driving for them, but I really hope they can pull it together.

      1. The main reason is in 2009, development counted to 2010. When McLaren realized how flawed the 28 was they had to figure out what went wrong and then concentrate fully on 2014. The was no point in wasting resources on 28 unfortunately.

  2. both their drivers finished every race

    Not to be pedantic, but wouldn’t it be more truthful to say that both drivers were classified every race? Perez stopped with a few laps to go in Monaco. To me, finishing a race is seeing the chequered flag.

    1. Yes, but he completed 90% of the distance so by the rules was classified. By that argument, a person in 1st place doesn’t count as finished if he breaks down on the last lap, but the person who was lapped 4 times during the race does because he crossed the finish line.

      1. If he breaks down on the last lap he doesn’t finish in my opinion. The guy 4 laps down who then crosses the line does.

      2. I think you need to read my comment again. He was classified, I know that and stated as such.

        As for someone in 1st stopping on the last lap – see Hakkinen in the 01 Spanish GP. He broke down from the lead on the last lap, was classified 9th but in my view didn’t finish the race as he didn’t cross the line when the chequered flag was being waved. Tarso Marques was lapped three times and so was classified behind Hakkinen, but finished the race.

  3. pull rod suspension was a problem, right?

    1. It was one of the biggest problems, mechanically it was fine but it drastically changed the air coming from the front of the car, that’s why they experimented all year with different front wings, if you compare them with Red Bull for instance you can see theirs are much more complex.

      1. Didn’t Ferrari had problems with it too in F2012? Or so I remember..

    2. I don’t understand why everyone has problems switching to pull rod suspension. Someone please explain why the theory seems not to work when it is implemented?

      1. Pull rod – push rod, same thing. The geometry of suspension is what counts the most. Picking points and chassis stifness as well. Ferrari had a suspension geometry favoring a car with full tank of fuel. Below the amount of fuel needed for 6 – 7 laps that car couldn’t do a thing against RB or Merc.
        When the season began I said: “With the known laws of physics their car will never get to the pole position.” The comment caused quite a stir. However, I was right and people who don’t know are still scratching their heads…

    3. The major problem is a fundamental flaw in relation between suspension geometry and car’s center of gravity. They blew it big time!

      1. You mention the geometry of pull rod vs push rod. it seems to me that a pull rod has an inherent different mechanical advantage as the wheel travels up. I imagine that with a pull rod, the drive may feel the car take a set differently. I also imagine that, to a driver used to push rods, with a pull rod the car may fell like it is falling over the edge of a cliff as it takes a set during turn in due to this different mechanical advantage. it is interesting that both Ferrari and now McClaren had trouble when the tried to put theory into practice.

  4. I’m pretty sure the the plan was to have a complete preparation year, a test year. They couldn’t say that at the start of the season because it wouldn’t keep the sponsors happy. I would rather they were honest and said so at the start but I think for business it was better to lie. Imagine sponsors reaction if at the start of the season McLaren said they were guaranteed to finish around 5th. To a certain extent they told some truth, they said they could develop this car further, which probably meant looking longer term than just the one year.

    Although Jenson probably knew.

    1. Why would they have a test year at the very end of this generation of regulations? Wouldn’t your argument make more sense if they used 2014 to prepare for the re-introduction of Honda?

  5. Surely one of McLaren’s less inspired designs. Really unfair on Perez from a development point of view – mind you he took a dive in form as soon as he signed with them. Here’s hoping he can bounce back – we can use all the hot blooded talent we can get in this sport.

  6. I’m sure I read in F1 Racing that McLaren made the decision to go with a completely different 2013 car when the MP4-27 was having its mid-season struggle. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing – had they envisaged a return to form at the end of 2012 then 2013 could’ve been a relatively successful year with them just enhancing it somewhat.
    The MP4-28 could’ve ended up being a good car, but time wasn’t on McLaren’s side to develop it being the last year before the regulation changes.

    Hopefully a return to good form isn’t too far away.

  7. why they didn’t go back to last years car after a few races? the lap times from last years car to this years were better at most tracks with last years car, while in other teams it was the other way. they probably could have beaten both Renault and Ferrari with last years car, they could have focused earlier on season 2014 also.

    1. because last year’s with 2013 regulatory tweaks would have been slower than this year’s McLaren.

    2. It is not as simple as you think, while other teams were developing their chassis for 4/5 months the MP4-27 was never touched, things evolve very quickly in F1 this year Ferrari had a good car in the beginning of the season but they messed up with the development and as a result they were dropping off in term of performances since Silverstone (the Canadian GP updates were wrong), so why Ferrari also didn’t go back to the pre-Canada specs because it is very simple in F1 if you’re not evolving and moving forward you’re dropping down and going backward

      1. I’m not a Ferrari fan but there is no doubt that they’ve been hit very hard with the tire change. That’s all. It wasn’t a car to get the pole position but it was a car with best race pace until Silverstone happened.

  8. I can’t help but feel sorry for Pérez his dream of being a Mclaren driver turned into a nightmare, but despite all that I really think he benefited from being in a big team, he learned some discipline, to work with the simulator and they showed him all the areas were he needs to improve as a driver.

    And you can really see it when you compare his first couple of races up until Monaco to the last ones when he out qualified and beat Jenson regularly. Exactly one year ago he was on the same category as Maldonado, quick but erratic pay driver but now you get the feeling that besides the money he brings he can also be a reliable and consistent points finisher, perfect for a midfield team.

  9. McLaren proves the point that big budgets alone don’t win races and produce positive results. Especially in comparison to what Lotus have achieved in 2013 and even 2012. Management of resources and talent in the right places at the right time is crucial. I hope they can sort out their problems and do better in 2014 and 2015 with the arrival of Honda. McLaren is such a huge team. Hope they can get their focus on what needs to be done.

    1. To be fair, they weren’t the first to prove this; many other teams have proven your point about big budgets (i.e. Honda, Toyota). Ferrari have always spent a lot but haven’t had a lot to celebrate in recent years.

      Hopefully they can take what they’ve learned in this era and apply it to 2014; they had awesome performance in 2012, awesome reliability in 2013, now if they could just put it all together…

      1. @steevkay – Toyota should have a monument in its honor.

        Likewise, I hope McLaren can put a good season together too.

  10. As a McLaren fan for practically all my life I can safely say this has been a truly awful season. I don’t know how it could have gone any worse really. I do feel though that some drivers on the grid (Vettel, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Grosjean and Rosberg) would have got podiums though in the MP4-28.

    One championship in 14 seasons however is an awful strike rate.

    1. Woulda, coulda, shoulda…

      Championship potential cars in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 with mistakes keeping them from the gold. Hamilton is solely responsible for the misses in 2007 (China) and 2010 (Monza and Singapore).

    2. (Vettel, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Grosjean and Rosberg) would have got podiums though in the MP4-28.

      Yes, because Button hasn’t beaten EVERY SINGLE ONE of those drivers both in races and in the WDC has he?

      1. Yet he has slower quali pace and race pace as compared to all those drivers.

  11. My own little theory on it (based on idle, unsubstantiated speculation)… they accepted they didn’t have one of the really top drivers – and realised making a car ‘as good’ as the others wouldn’t be enough, because all their rivals did have a top driver.

    So the only way they could win would be to somehow make their car better than the rest, to make up for the driver issue. So they risked it, and… boom.

  12. Only Lewis Hamilton knows the whole story, why did he leave mclaren last year for a team that was behind them in points and could hardly win one race all year? More money? sure, but I know he knew better, as proven today, mercedes was much better than mclaren even in the best mclaren races this year.

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