Have McLaren got the edge going into 2010?
30 January, 2010
Jan.30 (Daniel Chalmers) Going into 2010, many consider Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to be championship favourites, after a strong end to 2009, and having two world champions driving for the team.
Last March, after the final Barcelona test, the odds on McLaren winning the championship were much longer. Their car was estimated to be 2.5 seconds off the pace, and potentially the slowest in the field at the time.
Fast forward seven months to the season finale in Abu Dhabi and the story was very different. Hamilton took pole position by a gigantic 0.667 seconds. Brake gremlins leading to a retirement prevented a certain victory in the race.
Over the course of the year McLaren added 2.8 seconds worth of performance to the MP4-24. To gain that much performance was an incredible achievement. It further illustrated the fact that McLaren are the strongest on the grid when it comes to their development pace.
It could be argued that this turnaround has done even more good for the team than winning the championship would have done. Ultimately the team finished a distant third in the championship but to come from where they did and win races would have given the engineers, who worked night and day to fix the car’s problems, a lot of gratification.
It will have given the whole team an enormous amount of added confidence and belief. Within Mclaren, there will now be a sense that if they can fight back from a 2.5 second deficit to win races, they can recover from any adversity that gets thrown at them in the future.
Furthermore they have put themselves into a great position heading into 2010. The ban on re-fuelling is the only major regulation change this year. More significantly for McLaren, the aero regulations have remained stable, after last year’s wholesale changes.
Therefore, all the aerodynamic gains that McLaren found in 2009 will be taken forward into 2010. If they can continue to evolve this car and iron out the remaining niggles (which it looks like they are doing after seeing the first images of the MP4-25), and maintain their incredible 2009 rate of development in the build-up to the opening round in Bahrain, they could well end up scaring the opposition.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh is optimistic about 2010: “I think we’re cautiously optimistic that, after the experience of last year and, in particular, the momentum we gathered in the second half of the season, we’ll have a competitive car for both Jenson and Lewis.”
Another factor to consider is that in recent history McLaren have hardly ever had two poor seasons in succession. In 2004 McLaren only finished 5th in the constructors championships, but bounced back with the quickest car overall in 2005 but just lost out to Renault. After no wins in 2006 McLaren came back strongly to contest the 2007 championship with Ferrari. Will this trend continue in 2010?
McLaren have one of their strongest ever driver-line ups. McLaren’s policy when it comes to drivers has always been to hire the best two drivers available. No time proves that better than when Aryton Senna and Alain Prost were the team’s drivers.
In Hamilton and Jenson Button, McLaren have the two recent world champions. Signing Button puts the numbers one and two on their cars for the second consecutive season. Possessing the number one will certainly give the team a small psychological edge over their nearest rivals.
By producing the results he did last season in a difficult car, Hamilton proved that he is a very special driver. In the 2nd half of the season he scored more points than anyone. Hamilton also matured and grew as a driver. If McLaren give him an all-conquering car next season, and he repeats those performances he will be extremely hard to beat.
The signing of Button could prove to be a very clever move by McLaren . When the tanks are full of fuel it will be very hard on the tyres and brakes. With Button’s naturally smooth style of driving he will automatically be able to adapt to the new rules, without having to dramatically change his style. This could put him at a major advantage to the more aggressive drivers who may well have to dramatically alter their driving technique. It could end up being a massive advantage, especially at the start of the season as other drivers have to re-adapt.
Speaking at the recent Autosport show Button said he feels his chances are better at McLaren : “If I was at Brawn still, I would go into the season positive, but not as positive as I am now.”
During the close season it looked like more a matter of when Button would re-new his contract with Brawn. However after Button paid a visit to the McLaren technology centre everything changed, and five days later he was a McLaren driver.
What happened on that trip that persuaded him to move to McLaren on less pay than he would have got with Brawn? Perhaps he saw the progress Mclaren were making and thought he would get a better car than he would have got had he stayed put. So perhaps, reading between the lines, there is another hint towards Mclaren’s potential level of competitiveness in 2010.
The only drawback for McLaren has been the fact that Mercedes ended their stake in the team. However, Mclaren still have very good resources, and strong sponsors including Vodafone. Also, McLaren will still get their engine supply from Mercedes.
The biggest downside by far is that Mercedes have now gone off to create a dream team with Ross Brawn, and have pulled Michael Schumacher out of retirement in the process. This is now a team that will become a huge rival for McLaren in the near future and beyond.
In 10 years time one wonders whether McLaren will wish they had done more to keep Mercedes on board, and stopped this new dream team from emerging.
If Mercedes win more titles than McLaren this decade, Mclaren could regret allowing them to go. It would be the same regret as not signing Michael Schumacher in 1999. If that had gone through, McLaren could well have been far more successful over the past decade.
However, looking ahead to 2010 at least McLaren have a great chance of competing very strongly for the championship.