The pace of new McLaren MP4-24 is becoming a hot topic these days. The team either got it wrong, or they are sandbagging, or they simply do not care about the lap times and go testing according their plan. We will see in about two weeks in Melbourne …
But if they indeed got something wrong (as James Allen suggests in his blog) it would not be the first time for them or for another top team. Here is a quick memory refreshing look back to very recent past.
In 2003 Formula One season Kimi Raikkonen finished with his McLaren 2nd in the championship, only 2 points behind Michael Schumacher. A year later after 6 races McLaren only had 5 points to their name. It took a new car – MP4-19B for their fortunes to improve in the second half of the season. The first podium came at the 10th race of the season (British GP) and during the entire 2004 season they only scored 4 podiums (one of them was win). McLaren finished distant 5th in the constructors table almost 200 points behind the champions Ferrari. Their drivers ended the season 7th (Raikkonen) and 10th (Coulthard).
While McLaren struggled in 2004, Ferrari dominated that season winning 15 out of 18 races. But then came season 2005 and the new tyre rules. Instead of the whole season Ferrari dominated only one race in 2005 – the infamous US GP where their only racing competition were Jordan and Minardi. Also thanks to that clean sweep in United States the team still managed to finish the season in 3rd place as did Michael Schumacher but for most of the season the red cars were no match for Renault and McLaren.
Renault and Fernando Alonso won 2 consecutive titles in 2005 and 2006. But then came year 2007. Michelin left F1, Alonso left Renault, few mistakes were made in R27 design and all of a sudden the double champions turned from race winners to not so regular point scorers. Their only podium came in the wet Japanese GP thanks to Heikki Kovalainen’s second place. Renault’s fortunes only started to turn around in the later part of 2008 season.
The saddest recent case is the case of BAR and Honda – the second best team in 2004, the race winners in 2006. But then they decided to let a motorbike guy design their F1 car. The RA107 was a dog of a car and could not even compete with the rebadged RA106 used by Super Aguri. Only thanks to Button’s 5th place in the wet Chinese GP the Honda team leapfrogged Super Aguri in constructors championship saving the team from embarassment of being beaten by their B-team. Six points was all the Honda cars managed in 2007. The only thing that made Honda stand out that year was their Earth livery – the beginning of their disastrous concept of going alone without sponsors. The RA108 in 2008 did not turn out to be any better and we know how it all ended – with Brawn GP topping the time sheets 2 weeks before 2009 season kicks off .
Ron Dennis however clearly is not worried about McLaren and their 2009 season:
“Whatever performance level McLaren have today we will be a competitive racing team. That means we will be fighting for the world championship. The objective is to go to Australia and be the most competitive car there, not to come out of every single test at the top of the timesheets. Testing is about a disciplined approach to making the car go faster and you have to ignore the performance of the other teams. Whereas our main competitors are finishing testing in two days we still have the ability to test next week in Jerez. When we get to Australia that will be the first measurement of everyone’s performance.
We expect our car to go faster with every grand prix and we expect to maintain our pace to allow us to win the world championship.”
And he may well be right.