McLaren in 2017 – It has to get better

Henry Kelsall

McLaren have had a turbulent time since their renewed partnership with Honda began in 2015, and have not won a race since the end of 2012. 2017 represents the team’s best opportunity since then to get back to the front. For them, this year has to be better.

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You cannot deny that McLaren have massively underperformed for the last four years. 2012 saw them with arguably the best car on the grid, and had it not been for some operational errors and unreliability, they could have clinched at least the drivers title that year. After 2012, the results went away – No wins or podiums in 2013 with the team’s best result being 4th at the final race of the year, courtesy of Jenson Button. 2014 saw Kevin Magnussen bag a debut podium for the team in Australia and Button getting 3rd after the drama of Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification. After the promising season opener, no other podiums followed that year. 2015 saw Honda return, and the team dropped from 5th to 9th in the Constructors Championship. Only Manor, running a year old car, did worse than McLaren…

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The issues surrounding the Honda engine that year are well documented. Nowhere near enough power was in the back of the car, the ERS deployment ran out halfway down the straights leaving Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso sitting ducks to anyone behind, even the criticised Renault-powered cars. Reliability was just non-existent for much of the year and the amount of penalties the team took for engine and component changes became almost farcical. At the Belgian Grand Prix alone, the team received a total of 105 grid penalties…in one race weekend.

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“There are solutions in place which are logical and quite good and keep the motivation very high because I think [2016] will be a completely different picture”

Fernando Alonso, speaking at pre-season testing 2016

Thankfully though, 2016 was much better. The team rose from 9th to 6th in the Constructors and the sight of Button running 2nd at Austria after starting 3rd on the grid perhaps gave a glimpse of what is to come in the future. Points finishes with both cars became more regular than 2015, and Alonso regularly performed wonders in the car, running 4th at Spa early on and despite the power deficit and still managing 7th place at the end of the race. 2016 was a year in which the McLaren duo were able to dogfight in the midfield and fight for points regularly – Not quite the dizzying heights of old, but another progressive step in the right direction. For 2017, this upward curve needs to continue.

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“You’ve got to aim high, but right now I would be disappointed if we were fourth”

Jonathan Neale, McLaren Chief Operating Officer

McLaren really need to climb up the order this year. They stated themselves a 4th place finish in the Constructors standings would disappoint them. I think 3rd place should be their target. If the progress does not come this year then you have to wonder when it will come, if ever. Podiums need to come, a win, in the right circumstances, has to be a goal as well. They cannot blame their two drivers. Fernando Alonso is one of the best in the business and Stoffel Vandoorne is one of the hottest properties on the grid, potentially even better than Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen. The rot that started at McLaren in 2013 has started to diminish, and the team is heading in the right direction. Can McLaren continue on this curve? We have to hope they can…

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