McLaren began the 2017 season with high hopes, its new orange MCL32 a visual sign of the team’s new management – marketing guru Zak Brown replacing F1 icon Ron Dennis at the helm.
… while power unit partner Honda promised improved performance, and reliability – a real step forward over the European winter.
Its new power unit incorporated a Mercedes-style architecture, with a split turbo, the turbine and compressor connected via a shaft; along with other changes made possible by less restrictive regulations.
SOUNDBITE (English) YUSUKE HASEGAWA,
HEAD OF F1 ENGINE PROJECT, HONDA:
“The removal of the token system meant we can [make] improvement in every area for the engine.”
But by September, McLaren had cut ties with the Japanese manufacturer – the iconic McLaren-Honda brand trashed, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost’s 15 wins from 16 races in 1988 all but a distant memory.
The damage was done though, via the historic squad’s inability to produce performance or reliability in its fourth year of collaboration with Honda – its third on track – despite big plans to win again.
SOUNDBITE: (English) MARTIN WHITMARSH,
FORMER TEAM PRINCIPAL, McLAREN:
"We want to recreate our past glories and take McLaren Honda, back to the top."
It took until Azerbaijan for Fernando Alonso’s first points, then in Hungary – before Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Stoffel Vandoorne had to wait until Hungary, before Singapore and Malaysia.
Over the three years, reliability has been the biggest issue – with McLaren dropping 825 places collectively in power unit grid penalties, from 2015 to 2017. Vandoorne also failed to start in Bahrain, Alonso in Russia.
Having signed with Renault for the next three years – McLaren can finally move on and likely up the grid. Its chassis generally agreed to be at least as good as rival Red Bull Racing.
With Alonso and Vandoorne confirmed for 2018, the future looks promising for an F1 stalwart that has been stuck in a rut for the last three seasons.