Questions hang over McLaren as 2014 ends

2014 F1 season review

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McLaren team stats 2014

Best race result (number) 2 (1)
Best grid position (number) 3 (1)
Non-classifications (mechanical/other) 1 (1/0)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,231 (95.83%)
Laps led (% of total) 1 (0.09%)
Championship position (2013) 5 (5)
Championship points (2013) 181 (122)
Pit stop performance ranking 1

Early in 2014 McLaren seemed to have bounced back from the disappointments of last season. They had produced an uncompetitive car and lost their title sponsor in 2013, and only the impending return of Honda gave them cause for optimism.

In the off-season Ron Dennis reasserted his control over the team’s F1 operation for the first time since 2009 and Martin Whitmarsh was quietly shown the door. Dennis hired new racing director Eric Boullier, and the former Lotus team principal vowed McLaren’s low of 2013 “should be a benchmark for us to never do it again”.

A somewhat bare-looking MP4-29 was revealed in January. “Our cars will not feature a title sponsor at the first event,” Dennis admitted in March, “but it will definitely feature a title sponsor in the next few events”.

Had a title sponsor been found for the Australian Grand Prix, they would have enjoyed McLaren’s best result of the season. Rookie Kevin Magnussen made a brilliant start to his F1 career, finishing third on the road ahead of Jenson Button, who’d been delayed in qualifying. The pair gained another position post-race when Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified.

But this proved a false dawn. The aerodynamic shortcomings which were masked at the stop-start Albert Park course dogged them elsewhere early in the season. Novel rear suspension ‘blockers’ appeared to do little to aid their cause.

Meanwhile the team’s cars remained without a title sponsor. Although some new names appeared during the season, the prominent places on the car’s livery were occupied by the team’s existing sponsors, with the exception of those such as Hugo Boss who had defected to Mercedes.

Reliability was generally a strength: Button and Magnussen covered more racing laps than any other drivers. What problems they did have struck at inopportune moments, such as in Bahrain and Singapor where strong results were in the offing. They were also consistently the quickest team in the pits.

But from the middle of the season there were clear signs that, despite having produced an aerodynamically weak car for the second year in a row, upgrades from the factory were putting that right.

Button was in superb form at home in Silverstone and converted a season-best third on the grid in a wet qualifying session to fourth in the race. Two weeks later in Germany Magnussen also qualified on the second row, but his race was ruined at the first corner when Felipe Massa turned in on him and flipped over.

Unfortunately the team proved capable of tripping over themselves. In Hungary Button was again running strongly on a damp track, and McLaren’s rapid reaction to the appearance of the Safety Car should have put him in contention for a podium finish. But while every other teams correctly switched their drivers to slick tyres, McLaren opted for intermediates, and that mistake wrecked Button’s race.

However by now McLaren could at least count on out-scoring Force India most weekends. Late in the season they passed their rivals to reclaim fifth place in the championship, where they also finished last year.

“Rebuilding” was the word Boullier used to describe the team’s preparations for the return of Honda next year, and further signs of that came at the end of the season.

Peter Prodromou, one of Red Bull’s top aerodynamicists, returned to McLaren and the first fruits of his work appeared in time for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The front wing used by the team at Yas Marina bore striking similarities to Red Bull’s, the key difference being McLaren’s didn’t get them thrown out during qualifying.

A Honda-powered test hack ran at Silverstone and was also taken to the Yas Marina test. However at the latter it completed just five laps in two days.

And even at this late stage in 2014 key questions about McLaren’s 2015 campaign remain unanswered. A title sponsor for 2014 never materialised, and 12 months have now passed since the first deadline for announcing their replacement for Vodafone.

But the greatest cause of debate around the team at present is the identity of its drivers for 2015. Dennis has always prided himself in signing the best two drivers available for his team, but the chance to bring Fernando Alonso back to the fold appears to have paralysed their decision-making process. It remains to be seen which, if either, of the team’s current drivers will be retained.

Of course it’s reasonable for McLaren to make that decision in their own time. But it’s a sign the “rebuilding” still has some way to go.

2014 McLaren race results

Australia Malaysia Bahrain China Spain Monaco Canada Austria Britain Germany Hungary Belgium Italy Singapore Japan Russia USA Brazil Abu Dhabi
Jenson Button 3 6 17 11 11 6 4 11 4 8 10 6 8 5 4 12 4 5
Kevin Magnussen 2 9 13 12 10 9 7 7 9 12 12 10 10 14 5 8 9 11

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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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55 comments on “Questions hang over McLaren as 2014 ends”

  1. With superb timing, an invite to a media event at McLaren tomorrow dropped into my inbox as I was finishing this. Hopefully we’ll finally know who’s going to be driving for them next year…

    1. I assume they’ll be announcing their 2014 title sponsor.

    2. Nah it’ll be an announcement of a title sponsor :P I’m predicting Henry Hoovers, that should keep Ron’s factory floors nice and pristine….

    3. Probably reveal 2 Stig characters, and use the media storm for advertising, thus giving them more time to sort it out, and then a reveal at the end of the first test next year as the drivers take of their helmets.

    4. They’ll be announcing that a driver announcement might take place between now and the middle of March ;)

    5. @keithcollantine will you be going there?

    6. @keithcollantine Excellent, looking forward to winning that fiver I bet on Stoffel Vandoorne…

    7. if jenson is not there throw your shoe at them!

    8. According to “auto motor und sport” drivers will be Alonso & Magnusen. They got it right several times this season when everyone else was clueless. I am afraid that’s the case this time as well.
      Sorry Jenson, life isn’t fair most of the times.

      1. Other sources are saying Jenson has the seat from an insider and that much of the delay has been about Alonso not wanting to work with Ron Dennis,bringing a Major Sponsor that maybe having a larger sway in the power base within McLaren with that affecting the decision of driver line up . That with Honda who have an image of being honourable (they did help Brawn massively, despite a difficult position) preferring Button apparently. Just have to wait and see :)

  2. Great news. Finally. In contrast to Red Bull and Ferrari’s immediate driver replacement announcements. Also, i thought leaving Button out on wets was a calculated roll of the dice to go for an unlikely, but promised, victory, not a simple error.

    1. calculated? maybe, erroneous? proven so.

  3. I would be amused to see Ron keep Button and Mag, and the whole delay was a big ploy to leave Alonso out in the cold without a drive, as payback for the £100m he cost them in ’07 :-)

    1. It would be amusing, but somehow I doubt Ron’s that mischievous ☺

      1. dave dont know ron…

    2. I bet Honda would also find it amusing. It would also be amusing to see McLaren without any engines in 2015.

      1. honda wont pull out they have allready got the powertrains made

      2. Then McLaren could sue for breach of contract and maybe get their 100m back while using winning Merc engines again.

    3. It may be amusing for some but its not going to happen as I gather that Alonso’s contract is with Honda & that its Honda who will be basically buying Alonso the McLaren ride.

      I would not be at all surprised if the original plan at McLaren was to keep Button & Magnussen & that Alonso suddenly becoming available & it seems doing a deal with Honda is what has caused the hold up with the driver announcement as they can’t figure out who to pick to go alongside him.

      1. @gt-racer “as I gather that Alonso’s contract is with Honda”

        I must have missed this development – is there any further substance to this?

        1. @psynrg It was what was been reported in Italy.
          There were also reports saying that Honda were offering Ferrari $30m to buy him out of his Ferrari contract if required.

          I’m also hearing that Alonso’s deal is $40m for 2 seasons with an option for an extension beyond that. There’s also a performance clause allowing the deal to be ended early if Fernando feels there not moving forward as he’d like.

          Also hearing that Fernando has been pushing strongly for Jenson to be his team mate while Ron & Eric would prefer Kevin. Ron has gone as far as traveling to Denmark to try & get some local backing to strengthen Kevin’s position.

          1. @gt-racer

            Your points sound sensible.

            But if its right..I hope it wont cause the us against them situation that prevailed in 07.

            It makes sense why Alonso would want Button in the other car, because he knows that having a very experienced driver, world champion to boot, is their best bet to make rapid development on the car.

          2. I think Alonso preferring Button is more because he believes he’ll be less trouble to him than the somewhat unknown quantity of Magnussen who has yet to reach his true potential.

  4. Should we hold our expectations high on this event McHonda? I suspect it’s going to be an announcement regarding their Christmas celebration ;)

    1. It should have been in reply to the comment by @keithcollantine. Sorry.

  5. If Mclaren drops button. I cant wait to see them fail another season with honda.

  6. Just like Toby Mody’s tweet (, McLaren are set to announce the drivers tomorrow (

    1. @neelv27 That article doesn’t say the drivers will be announced tomorrow. As per my first comment, it just points out there will be an announcement.

      1. an announcement to say they will be announcing there drivers soon, liflong mclaren fan and they are annoying the hell out of me with this waiting game,and ron going around denmark with his begging bucket, jenson will know some rich guys he should chip in and buy caterham and go knocking on his old freinds honda for a powerunit…

  7. IMO McLaren main problem is not their drivers, but it was their chassis. they had best engine this year plus reliability and they still fighting most races for low points scoring positions, even if Honda is the best engine i doubt they will have huge leap from this year, and then they treat badly both Button and Magnussen along with some blunders. I’m huge fan of McLaren, but my respect seemed lost time over time.

    1. I think it is no longer about building a good chassis and putting a good engine in it, and off you go to the podium. It’s about a crucial marriage of power unit to chassis…both going hand in hand moreso than ever in F1. For me the Merc p/u marriage to Mac’s chassis in this brand new chapter of F1 was never going to be better than the in-house marriage at the Merc factory. Hence Mac’s move away from Merc to Honda where they too will hopefully enjoy a long and healthy marriage. It’s going to be exciting to see, but I don’t expect miracles in Honda’s first season back, however, one never knows. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    2. tgu (@thegrapeunwashed)
      10th December 2014, 15:47

      @deongunner Agreed. The fact that Red Bull finished ahead of several Mercedes powered teams suggests that their chassis is simply in another league to that of the competition. I wonder how much insider knowledge Seb will be able to impart to Ferrari? He could be their golden ticket.

      1. golden ticket and he turns up and the wonka factory is full of clueless umpa lumpas, its why teflonso bailed.

      2. Merc engine according to Horner was better by around a second. At times when Merc decided to go for it, they were over 2 seconds a lap faster than everyone. So Red Bull chassis was not better than Merc.

    3. there bank balance and rotation of design teams imo is there problem

    4. @deongunner – re: McLaren having the “best engine” in 2014, Ron was interviewed on TV at Abu Dhabi and seemed to imply that Mercedes had kept back crucial engine management information so that the Mercedes works team always had a “better” engine. Of course, that could be an excuse, or bitterness, of paranoia.

      1. ** OR ** paranoia.

  8. The problems relating to sponsorship just highlight the fact that maybe F1 is living in the past, and that they need to have a cost cap that suits this new era of less money. If there isn’t a cost cap then the winners will keep winning and the also rans will continue to be also rans. The whole point of a sport is that the human element is what should judge the winners and loosers, not who can afford the most aero-package updates.

    1. cost caps are imosible in f1 look at redbull and the companys they have founded to get around the overspending rule, redbull technologys ect that “give” the f1 team things to keep them off the official teams books

    2. @drycrust: You are wrong – F1 isn’t about finding out who is the best driver, as You suggest. F1 is an engineering team sport. The deciding factor is the design- and development team. Even a World class driver can’t make it to the podium with a lousy design package. If You want to see athletes compete, old-school, Amish style, then You have to look elsewhere.
      Right now F1 is technically more relevant than ever, as it drives development towards hybrid powerpacks. The drivers are merely pilots with ego’es larger than life, but as we have seen in several seasons before 2014, the winning team was so dominant that they would have won, even with only midfield pilots. About the financial situation, there is no sensible argument for paying the better half of the field the large salaries they get, as the miracles are actually made in the design studio. The teams could easily agree on a driver pay ceiling, say 1 mio Euro, and thus save a lot of money. I bet the pilots would drive anyway.

      1. I find myself agreeing with a lot of that, but the “cult” of the pilot is still important for the human face of F1, and it’s not so much that anyone can race a good F1 car to success, it’s much more to do with the fact that around 90% of the world’s best drivers, would soon crack under the sheer pressure and fitness that a modern F1 pilot has to endure. Gone are the days when the likes of Graham Hill and James Hunt had a few beers before qualifying..

        To bring that peak mental and physical fitness to success during an F1 championship season, is, what makes them, well, true Champions.

    3. Bob (@bobespirit62)
      10th December 2014, 20:23

      I think it may be worse than many think for the smaller teams. If you believe what the team principals at Sauber, Force India and Lotus are saying, all 3 of them could be closing their F1 teams at some point during 2015. I don’t think any of the three are confident they can finish 2015 without a change in the revenue sharing model. Thus all the talk of 3 car teams. We could be looking at only the 4 big teams (Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull & McLaren), plus Williams (due to good sponsorship & results) & Toro Roso (due to parent Red Bull money) by the end of 2015. So, that’d be only a 12 car grid; or 18 if all run 3 cars. Could be sad, but true.

      1. @bobespirit62: You raised a good point: that F1 is likely to loose another 3 teams in 2015, meaning F1 will have lost 5 teams in two years, all due to financial problems.
        As I said, F1 really needs to have a cost cap, and yes, I know that each team has their own way of costing, but if they don’t then they will end up with a racing series that will be more spectacle than spectacular. After all, if the teams can sort out rules relating to engine homoglation and engine management systems, then there isn’t any reason why they can’t also have the same accounting structure.
        There isn’t any reason why the FIA could mandate it that all engines have to be bought off them, and that they will buy the one you want from the appropriate engine supplier. That way the cost of the engine is known to the FIA.

  9. McLaren had great reliability and they obviously still attract traditional brand sponsorship as well as being a first choice customer team again. The last season was a nice step up and Button acquitted himself well out there after a very tough 2013. The way the announcement is being handled leaves some doubts though about their direction. For the sake of the sport I hope the Honda engine is a good one and Ferrari and Renault more competitive so we have a good fight on our hands again after two less than competitive season.

  10. For want of a better place to post, I’ll put it here.

    JB to get a 1yr contract extension. McLaren will broker a rescue deal for Caterham including Honda engines for the team and KM as a driver, “second” driver unimportant, though Max Chilton could bring some money and make KM look good. This will double (ish) the data available for the Honda engine while keeping KM fresh to bring back to McLaren for 2016.

    1. Here’s my hypothetical scenario, Honda wants as a second team supplied, Caterham benefits, Magnussen and Kobayashi pairing.

      Though a) I don’t know what benefit honda will have having a bottom tier team and b) I don’t know if mclaren are wealthy enough to do that

    2. I think it quite illogical for Button to accept a one year contract. The McLaren/Honda may need the 2015 season to develop into a WDC car. Why should he develop a car and hand it over to another driver.

      1. Well he’s reportedly on a 1+1 so in the middle. Also Alonso is widely expected to hold out for a 2016 Merc drive, isn’t that just as illogical?

        Anyway, part 1 of my prediction is true and now a newer article on this site is saying Ron wants to help struggling teams… Will part 2 come true?

        1. I wish, but it is unlikely, and would it really benefit KM, when he could not hold on the the McLaren seat.

  11. This team has a lot of problem.

  12. I was thinking, McLaren Goes Ahead with JB and JB turns out to be much faster than Alonso How does that sound ?

    Alonso is also not a super qualifier like Jenson but both are best on the race days. It is fair possibility that Button could prove to be a better performer than Alonso on the race day. De javu 2007 :)

    Ron Dennis will be thinking why am i paying so much for Fernando !!!!!!!!! I should have kept the same lineup of 2014 !!!!

    1. @tmax
      Alonso trashed Raikkonen, Fisichella, Massa, and Grosjean as teammates in qualifying by a hefty margin. None of the guys I mentioned above are any slower than JB over one lap.

      Alonso edged Trulli 16-15 in qualy, and just lost out to Hamilton 8-9. In the prime of his career, Jarno as an awesome qualifier. And Lewis of course, was convincingly faster than JB over one lap.

      Alonso generally had the edge on Hamilton in race pace in 2007, he beat him 9-6 in a two car finish. Hamilton beat Button 26-14 in a two car finish. Alonso destroyed Fisichella in Renault, Button was beat by Fisi when teammates in Benetton.

      All the evidence points to Alonso being a faster driver than Button, both over one lap and across a race distance.

  13. Steve (@shhhwatchingf1)
    11th December 2014, 8:46

    Does this mean that (if) Button has retained his seat he will be the first F1 driver to have raced again both father and son (Jos and Max Verstappen) in a continuous career?

  14. I have a feeling there’s an awful lot we have no idea about here…

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