Changes continue as McLaren and Honda make gains

2016 F1 season review

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Was McLaren’s second season of using Honda’s V6 hybrid turbo really that much better than the first?

Sixth in the championship is still far from the heights they are used to. In raw performance terms they narrowed the deficit to Mercedes from 3% to 2.2%. Nor was reliability that much better – they only had three fewer race-ending technical failures than last year.

McLaren team stats 2016

Best race result (number)5 (2)
Best grid position (number) 3 (1)
Non-classifications (mechanical/other) 8 (6/2)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,213 (95.22%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2015)6 (9)
Championship points (2015)76 (27)
Pit stop performance ranking6

But crucially the McLaren-Honda package can now be seen as a potentially front-running combination in some respects. Around slow corners, short corners and in braking zones the MP4-31 was up there with the best, as demonstrated by the team’s results at tracks like Sochi, Monaco and Singapore.

Having sacrificed some of their ‘size zero’ design philosophy to boost the Honda’s turbine, the result was a hike in usable power. This did not lift them from last among F1’s four engine manufacturers, but brought respectability.

It also allowed the team’s all-star driver line-up to show a little more of what they could do. Fernando Alonso was at his tenacious best whenever he sniffed the points places.

Jenson Button’s season, which will probably proved to have been his last, was more of a mixed bag. Nonetheless he had the car running in the rare heights of second place at the Red Bull Ring.

The Honda power unit is undoubtedly the biggest part of their performance deficit to the front runners. Blaming the rest simply on aerodynamics could be misleading, as a team with a less powerful engine cannot afford the same drag penalty as other teams.

The car plainly lacked around longer corners than its rivals, which explained its conspicuously poor performance at Honda’s home track. But most encouragingly for the future was that the team seemed to have greater confidence that the upgrades it was putting on the car were working. The pay-off was 17 top-ten finishes in races – 11 more than last year – and 12 Q3 appearances versus none in 2015: definite progress.

However as the season came to an end the team was rocked by another seismic change. Long-time leader Ron Dennis has been forced aside following a dispute at board level. Jost Capito, who only arrived from Volkswagen in September, is set to depart his role in charge of the F1 team.

Zak Brown has stepped in to head up the team on the commercial side and has quickly served notice that he wants the days of vacant spaces on the team’s car to quickly become a thing of the past. But the full effect of these changes will not be felt until next year.

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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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11 comments on “Changes continue as McLaren and Honda make gains”

  1. When you start from ground zero, anything is considered progress.

    I think Mclaren’s progress was flattered by some of Alonso’s performances. The car was still struggling to get in to Q3, was mediocre on race pace, lacking straight line speed, lacked reliability and was nowhere close to the podium.

    They still missed their targets for this season, and it would be shameful if anyone in the Mclaren team was proud of what they achieved this year.

    1. I don’t know what McLaren’s target was for this year but if they missed it then it was an unrealistic target. This is Formula 1: falling behind easy, climbing back up is hard. Unless there’s a rule or technical change that (partially) shuffles the teams’ respective performances, no team is going to jump up leaps and bounds in the rankings from one year to the next. They all have to slowly claw their way to the top over several years, even if they’re called McLaren.

      In that light, McLaren did their job this year.

    2. I fully agree. Alonso made them look better than they were.

    3. @todfod I for one have the impression that mainly Honda failed. As a team they were pretty much ok. Its car has strong aspects, their drivers are good (Button could have done better though) and served with correct strategy. As a team I’d be proud given they had the worst engine.

  2. I really hope the new McLaren will be competitive next year, not many are optimistic including myself. But it just has to happen, the sport would be so much better off, and it would be great to see Alonso fighting the drivers he should be, here’s hoping for major improvements to the engine and overall car.

    I know they were still 2.2% down so in F1 that is a huge huge margin to make up, even with regulation changes. Hoping the removal of the token system allow Honda to go full force and make a better engine throughout the season.

  3. Honda insiders said McLaren had a crap rear suspension that they had to crank on downforce to make it work without chewing the tyres up. Lets not forget McLaren had the weakest merc powered chassis in 2014.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised. In 2014, Red Bull have shown that even with a disastrous PU and poor reliability podiums and wins are still possible if you have a great chassis. Mclaren have compromised their PU design to accommodate for a great chassis.. and failed at that too.

      I would say 50% of Mclaren’s performance deficit is because of Honda, and the other 50% is because of their inability to make a good chassis despite having the ‘size zero’ PU.

  4. McLaren’s own shortcomings are underplayed. Obviously as with stock markets, it’s unwise to be candid. Honda has been impeccable throughout. It’s true that most of the deficit lies with the PU but at least Honda has behaved in a cohesive manner. It has taken a couple years for Honda to change their philosophy, they had long realised their mistake, they went a year after, they took Mercedes concept but they were brash to think they could one up that concept and ended up with an unexpected and now admittedly unrepairable compromise. Honda very soon realised their mistake and the other PU makers weren’t generous to give Honda more of hand as the token situation was a restriction on ailing PU’s

    1. F1 isn’t about behaving.

      Honda failed. They had all of 2013/2014 to run their PU in the back of an F1 spec chassis with unlimited testing.

      You need to play dirty to win in F1. Ask Mercedes, ask Red Bull.

      Nice guys finish last most likely was a term born in F1.

  5. I think it’s a Honda problem – not McLaren. To say the first year was abysmal would be kind – countless broken motors, an EGR system that was trash etc.

    Seventeen DNF’s in 2015 is incomprehensible – it surely has to be an F1 record. How is McLaren supposed to come up with a decent chassis with so little time on the track?

    Any chance of Alonso being competitive let alone battling for a WDC is gone. There is no way in hell McHonda will leapfrog Merc, RB, Red and possibly Force India and Williams.

    If I were Alonso and the new car is lagging next season, I would walk and let Jensen take the reins (if he is interested). No driver of FA’s caliber should have to suffer through another season of battling midfielders at best.

    If Honda would have humbled themselves and enlisted available resources from McLaren, we might not be discussing this. Sadly, many F1 fans will never see what Alonso could do in a competitive car. A big loss for F1 and many of it’s fans.

  6. Honda should have waited another year…..and used that time to run the engine on their own track in some other sort of chassis so some of the problems could have been ironed out….think the actual engine wasn’t that bad….just the hybrid system that they possibly didn’t understand fully….causing the engine to go bang and not being powerful enough
    I also think Honda have until about mid season to deliver or face the chop…although personally I expect Honda to be much improved next year

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