[F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] McLAREN: ON THE UP

McLaren is a very progressive Formula 1 team. From its state-of-the art headquarters in Woking, England, to its thriving automotive business building million-dollar supercars.

… everything it does takes inspiration from its racing pedigree, one dating back to Monaco 1966 and founder Bruce McLaren, but built in the modern era by visionary former leader Ron Dennis.

Overall, McLaren has achieved eight world constructors’ championships, and 12 world drivers’ championships, from Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 to Lewis Hamilton in 2008… 

Its great three-time F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna arguably F1’s best-ever, a legend of the sport who influenced a generation of racers.

SOUNDBITE: (English) FERNANDO ALONSO, 
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“He was my idol, he was my inspiration. Probably I became Formula 1 driver thanks to him. So I imagine to share the team with him and to learn from him as much as I could."

And that progressive approach with a nod to the past continues in 2018 with the arrival of the new MCL33, featuring Renault power and a striking new livery that incorporates the iconic papaya orange and electric blue colours the squad first ran 50 years ago in 1968.

And it’s a source of pride for the people at McLaren, now led by marketing guru Zak Brown, who joined as executive director in late 2016.

SOUNDBITE (English) ZAK BROWN,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, McLAREN:
“The men and women at McLaren have worked unbelievably hard, as they always do over the winter, and they know how to produce race winning cars so a little early to get into predictions but we’re certainly going to give it everything we’ve got.”

The switch to Renault is no doubt a step forward – not only in bookending the torturous stint with Honda, but providing more reliable performance.

SOUNDBITE (English) ERIC BOULLIER,
DIRECTOR, McLAREN RACING:
“It’s a new story and we also have been through another step in the car development and the car design. I don’t think we have left any stone unturned, but try to do the best.” 

For star driver, Fernando Alonso - reuniting with the marque that took him to two world titles is the path to better results – though he may have overcommitted for 2018, with full seasons in F1 and the World Endurance Championship, a sporting rarity in the age of specialisation.

SOUNDBITE (English) FERNANDO ALONSO,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I think it’s an important moment for McLaren after a couple of years not winning the championship, or not fighting for the championship, it’s time to come back to that position.”

Alonso will be pushed all the way by his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, the Belgian happy with his development in his rookie season last year.

SOUNDBITE (English) STOFFEL VANDOORNE,
F1 DRIVER, McLAREN:
“Very good progress throughout the year, and I think near the end of the year matching Fernando and playing a very close level field with him - that was very good.”

But there’s much to do, with Alonso outqualifying Vandoorne 14-5 across 19 events started last year, outracing him 5-1 when they could be compared, and scoring four more points.

So, the Belgian needs to up his pace in qualifying where he was less than two tenths of a second adrift on average.

But he’ll only need to look over his shoulder for motivation with McLaren’s highly rated reserve driver Lando Norris waiting in the wings – and the 18-year-old ready to jump in at a moment’s notice.

SOUNDBITE (English) LANDO NORRIS,
RESERVE DRIVER, McLAREN:
“Well, it’s a possibility for this year, to be honest. If something was to happen to Fernando or Stoffel
or Fernando made a surprise leave and did IndyCar again or something, which I don’t think he is.”

The squad completed 260 laps in week 1 of pre-season testing – 52 more than last year, despite Day 3 being largely snowed out, but Melbourne will be the real litmus test. Until then, Mclaren remains a dark horse.

SOUNDBITE (English) ZAK BROWN,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, McLAREN:
“Well, we hope to surprise some people. But we’ve won 20 world championships before, and so everyone back at the factory certainly knows how to win races. It’s been a while, too long. And we think we’ve got the drivers, the package, to be very competitive.”