Chasing the Pack
After the shambles that cost Lewis Hamilton almost certain victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, Hamilton came to Canada brimming with confidence, ready to strike back and regain what he lost at the previous round of the championship. Lewis took a close, but convincing win ahead of his team mate to extend his championship over Nico to 17 points. But that isn’t really the most interesting story from the weekend for me. And to be honest, even Vettel’s superb recovery drive from the back of the grid isn’t either. It’s the continuing bad form of McLaren.
I wrote a blog a few weeks ago discussing the (possible) demise of the Woking outfit following their controversial move to Honda power for this year. I argued both sides of the fence, and that while things are bad; history has shown that transition can sometimes be tricky. However, I worry that things may be worse than first thought. And certainly the noises starting to come out of the team, through the drivers in particular, are starting to show cracks in an already strained situation.
In a race where McLaren’s former engine suppliers dominated again with a podium lock out, neither McLaren made the finish line – in fact, to make matters worse, Button was lapped after only 20 laps of the race by his former McLaren team mate. His race was later ended by an “electronic issue”. Meanwhile, Alonso reacted angrily to a request to save fuel by complaining that the team were in danger of “looking like amateurs” if they slowed what little pace they had. All of this in addition to Button’s grid penalty and drive through for his engine change. All is not well in the Woking camp.
Button and Co are adamant they are making progress – and absolutely, they have. But it is such slow and minute progress, that it really doesn’t look like it – this is aided by the fact that at the same time, all of the teams are improving as they always do throughout the season, leaving McLaren perpetually chasing the pack. So does this mean that the team is on a one way street to self-destruction? I still doubt it – but something is still troubling me. Whilst you can never write off a team of McLarens stature and background experience, it is concerning that a team that is as good as they are made such an adverse decision to switch without being sure they could make it work.
I understand the reasoning behind it – McLaren felt that whilst Mercedes had the best engine, they would always favour their own works team over a customer like the Woking outfit. But is that really the case? There are rules in place to ensure that engine manufacturers do not “stitch up” their customers, particularly in the case of when there is a works team present. And then there is Williams – they themselves have bounced around engine suppliers in recent years with varying results – but since switching to Merc power, they have pushed on and not looked back, more often than not being one of the only teams to take the challenge to the works boys.
So what does this all mean? Well one thing is for sure, Button has already written off his season. “We won’t get a podium this year but we have to do the work, or you don’t deserve a podium,” he said in yet another display of defiance that their problem is anything but irreversible. As for Fernando – he is busy concentrating on not losing face in the light of Ferrari’s new found pace this season. “No, I think it is just the consequence of being a new team, with very new technology, a very aggressive approach in terms of car design and it will require time, but it is the only way to beat Mercedes in the future.” Most would argue he could have already achieved that this season after Vettel’s superb win in Malaysia. And the fact that neither Ferrari made the podium in Canada is no consolation either, as they were only beaten by the Williams of Bottas – proving that Mercedes customers can still access top performance from their package.
In the end, only time will tell if this move will work out – but I am not sure that Fernando has the time he thinks he does to sit and wait for Honda to catch up on the development train. At 33, he arguably has his best days behind him – and whilst he is by no means slow, can he really afford to wait while Honda guess at getting it right?