Mclaren, from a classic and top team to a backmarker!!!

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    mclaren being passed like that and being called backmarkers is really the most underwhelming and sad story for f1 lately in the recent years, at team who is one of the best and classic teams of f1 history, i just want to know who and why made them come to this point…what’s happening at mclaren the last couple of seasons???!!!


    A very interesting question.

    Disclaimer: I am a McLaren fan and this is a quite long post.

    I don’t know for sure why the team is in such a dire state, but I can remember how we end up where we are.
    This is mostly written from memory, so if I forgot or misinterpreted any event, please feel free to correct me.

    As far as I know, here is how all unfolded.

    2008 : McLaren was a top team, en route to win the championship and coping with the aftermath of the infamous spygate (a fine of $100M).

    2009 : Having fought until the end of the year to win the WDC, McLaren starts the year completely off the pace. They missed the boat of the double diffuser and spent the year catching up. They nonetheless did a good job, being the first team to win a race using KERS.
    Meanwhile, they prepared their next car using the double diffuser trick.

    2010 : Red Bull successfully used diffuser blowing, rendering ordinary double diffuser obsolete in the process. McLaren introduced its RW80 (aka F-duct) later copied by the others teams.
    Meanwhile, they prepared their next car using a giant and complex blowing system nicknamed ‘the octopus‘.

    2011 : The octopus is not working as expected and the winter tests are a complete failure. What would have been a Red Bull killer on paper is just an expensive BBQ starter. During the interval prior to the Australian GP, McLaren removed entirely its octopus from the car to use a more simple blown diffuser (the octopus would never return). Button ended the year runner up to the unstoppable Vettel.
    Meanwhile, Martin Whitmarsh is appointed team principal of the racing team. He is leading the preparation of their following car.

    2012 : McLaren starts the year with the best car on the grid.
    But half way through the year (not sure of where it stands in that year exactly), the design team finds difficult to improve the car.
    Whitmarsh while at the head of the team has changed its internal organisation. Ron Dennis used to rule as a king in his castle: he always had the final word.
    Withmarsh organized committees where pools of engineers debated in place of a single person taking the decision. I’m not sure about the other changes, but the common idea was to involve more people in the decision making process and not use his position whenever an argument arose.
    The development difficulties led to a dump of the foundation of that year’s car to start a new chapter in 2013. Thinking the current car was a dead-end, they had to invent something new. Later that year, the team overcame their issues and finished the year with the fastest car (albeit not reliable).
    Meanwhile, their new challenger was prepared with a new aero philosophy.

    2013 : The new car is a deception. Whitmarsh hesitated to revert to last year’s car. He stated later that it was actually quite close. But the committee in charge eventually voted against. That year the team failed to win a race. It was the final nail in the coffin for Whitmarsh’s leadership.
    Later that year, he stepped down from team principal as Ron Dennis returned.

    2014 : Jumping ship from Mercedes, McLaren is barely allowed to touch the Mercedes engine once its bolted to the car. This compromises its integration to the chassis, reducing the car overall performance.

    2015 : Honda returns to F1 engine making, with little success, forcing the team to wait for that elusive win they haven’t scored since 2012.

    This is how I see the team right now: a lot of potential, but it lacks efficiency.
    McLaren has introduced various technology and always had some special weapon for the opposition to copy. But since 2012, they are just catching up.
    Martin Whitmarsh and his innovative leadership (from an F1 point of view) made two major mistakes: throw the MP4-27 under the bus and when it appeared the MP4-28 was not up to the expectation, stick with it. This means years for McLaren to get back to winning (they haven’t done so yet).

    But hey, they have very good engineers, some cash from the other branch of McLaren Group and Dennis’ vision. It’s just a matter of time before they are back on top.


    thx man, very helpful explanation, now i understand more the position they are in, but i guess they shouldn’t have left mercedes engines altogether, look at where they are now, a midtable team at best…



    That was quite a synopsis of the last 9 seasons for Mclaren!

    The way I look at it os a little bit different. The era between 2007 to 2013 was dominated by aero and chassis configuration. The difference between engines was negligible and it was the primary focus of teams to just make a car that was aero efficient, had great mechanical grip and was reliable. Mclaren, Red Bull and Ferrari were the three top teams because they were all has full support from the 3 best engine suppliers for them, while they focused on making great chassis.

    In 2014 that all changed because with the new regulations. Now, engine performance had become a major differentiator as the typically small gaps from aero differences, were replaced with the larger gaps found from maximised engine performance. Since Mercedes was now going to give 1st preference to it’s works team in keeping that advantage, Mclaren would never really get that edge that Ferrari and Red Bull were going to have by being the 1st preference of the engine supplier. Hence, the justifiable decision to find a new engine supplier that would give Mclaren 1st preference.

    Now, this is where things start going wrong for Mclaren –

    Why choose Honda? Honda was nothing short of a massive failure when they were in F1 the last time around. Under the lexx complex V8 era, they built the worst engine on the grid along with the worst chassis and pretty much failed on every front of racing before they decided to bow out in 2008. Why would you want to partner up with a engine manufacturer that had a poor track record in F1 over the past decade? More importantly, why would you only approach Honda in 2012, and start work in 2013? Mercedes, Ferrari and REbault had all started their work on the new PU as early as 2011.

    Another case of lack of foresight was choosing the approach of size zero packaging. When the 2014 rules were formed, it should have been analysed that packaging wasn’t going to be as big a differentiator as power output. Especially, when Ferrari dropped the ball in 2014, it was obvious that no compromise for power output for packaging purposes should be the norm. Yet, Mclaren didn’t rework on their stance, and they ended up with a disastrous 2015 because of it. Not only did they not realise their mistake for 2015, they ended up wasting an entire year in 2016 by sticking to the same engine philosophy and ruining any fundamental corrections that should have been made at the end of 2015.

    In 2017, they decided the last 2 years were a waste of time, effort and resources, and went back to the drawing board. The most optimal route was to copy Mercedes’ layout and hence they should have started what was a foolproof plan. This is when the decision of partnering up with Honda comes back to bite Mclaren. Not only are Honda unable to work on a layout that has been understood by the entire paddock, but they have been unable to identify problems early on to correct them in time. Thus, making 2017 another ‘testing’ season.

    If Honda started work on their PU design 2 years late, and then scrapped an entire design after 2 years. They are already 4 years behind the competition. Even with the token system being scrapped, this could take ages to make up. At least another 2 to 3 seasons. But the worst part of the entire situation is that Honda are not really capable of catching up either. Their level of talent inspite of financial resources being poured in are not up to the mark, and additionally, they refuse to count on outside help or consultants to make their job easier.

    I hate to say it, but Honda are no longer worthy of being in F1 just due to the lack of good engineering talent and skill set, and in this era of Formula 1, that is the biggest reason for you to bow out of the sport. They realised that in 2008, and they have realised it again in 2017.

    It’s impossible to put a 100% of the blame on Honda though. Mclaren had their own mishaps in approaching Honda a year or two later than they should have, and also not having the foresight to abandon the size zero approach. The combination of a couple of bad decisions from Mclaren and the disaster that is Honda have now put Mclaren in a position of being unable to fight for WDCs.

    Mclaren now find themselves in a position where they can never taste any success with Honda. Their only approach is to cut their losses of the last 4 seasons, and either find a new engine partner and prepare for a few more seasons of torture until they finally come good OR take a long term punt and start manufacturing their own engines. Either ways, they will have a painful journey for the next 3 to 4 seasons, but at the end, there is a chance of success, which is something they will never get with Honda.

    One thing is for sure, that Zak Brown must make a decision regarding Mclaren’s future this season.. and no matter what the approach, Mclaren are in for another 3 to 4 seasons of excruciating pain. But the difference between Mclaren going through a long slump or Mclaren becoming an eternal back marker lies with the direction and decisions taken during this year.


    thx a lot todford, now i know and understand well why it has come to this for mclaren, it is their own decision making of acquiring honda when this company has already left f1 on a low note, they should have stuck with mercedes and look where it could have been for mclaren have they done so… thx anw


    There’s no way McLaren could afford to manufacture their own engines, you’re talking of adding hundreds of millions to their running costs to achieve something actual engine manufacturers are struggling with. They don’t even build their road car engines in-house.

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