McLaren continues to evolve its ambitions, as F1’s biggest mover this year – making a quantum leap from ninth place in the constructors’ standings at the end of last season to retain fourth following Azerbaijan.
… fitting the historic British team into the space Force India filled last year, between the top three top teams and brutal midfield. A pocket it’s shared at times with rivals Haas and Renault’s works team.
But while progress has been swift, McLaren’s Racing Director Eric Boullier says the MCL33’s true potential will only begin to emerge from this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix - and for good reason.
"A lot of parts, upgrades, are on the way to hit the track,” he said. “For logistical reasons, it's very likely it's going to be Barcelona and from that point we will see, performance-wise, where we are."
McLaren has been a squad unleashed since splitting with its former power unit supplier Honda at the end of last year….
… the Japanese manufacturer’s engines lacking both power and reliability, destroying the legendary McLaren-Honda legacy of four-straight F1 world championship doubles from 1988 to 1991.
Despite all the best intentions at the beginning…
SOUNDBITE: (English) MARTIN WHITMARSH,
FORMER TEAM PRINCIPAL, McLAREN:
"We want to recreate our past glories - and take McLaren Honda, back to the top."
But the first year back together netted just 27 points and ninth place. 2016 saw an improvement – with 76 points and sixth; but an engine architecture change for 2017 would prove the beginning of the end.
Honda adopted a Mercedes-style layout, the turbine and compressor split by a shaft, reducing turbo lag and improving packaging. But the change in design had a huge effect on reliability – dropping the team back to ninth at season’s end, forcing an inevitable split.
2018 heralded a new era for the team, with Renault power and a new-look car, the change breathing fresh enthusiasm into the squad.
SOUNDBITE (English) ERIC BOULLIER,
RACING DIRECTOR, McLAREN:
“You just watch your engineers and if they’re smiling and eager to work or demanding that means that you clicked something good.”
The team’s results have certainly improved, with Baku marking McLaren’s third double points finish from four races – Hungary 2014, the last time that it scored that string of success.
On the driver front, Stoffel Vandoorne continues to grow – while Fernando Alonso was revitalised by his sportscar win in Belgium on Sunday. All of it building on the team’s fire, re-ignited pre-season.
SOUNDBITE (English) ZAK BROWN,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, McLAREN:
“We’ve won 20 [F1] 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.”
The next step is climbing onto the rostrum, which pre-season seemed like a very ambitious goal – but is now not far from reach.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) FERNANDO ALONSO,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“Eventually we want to be finishing in the points and earning a spot on the podium as soon as possible."
In a just few months – McLaren has returned to being a consistent top-ten runner. But with that level of development – the historic British team could be a consistent podium challenger in 2019.