Changing fortunes have seen the once mighty McLaren team struggle near the back of the grid for the past three seasons. Now McLaren have escaped their doomed Honda partnership, can their new engine supplier return them to the top of the sport in 2018?
|First F1 Appearance||1966 Monaco Grand Prix|
|Team Principal||Eric Boullier|
The McLaren team was founded in 1963 by the charismatic Bruce McLaren. McLaren was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1937 and raced in hillclimbing events before progressing to F2 and eventually Formula One, and would go on to become the sport’s youngest winner at the 1959 U.S. Grand Prix. McLaren was much more than a driver though, and decided to follow in the footsteps of his former team-mate Jack Brabham and start building his own cars. Involved in every aspect of the team and car, McLaren took his eponymous team’s first F1 win at the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix, in a season which saw them finish second in the Constructors’ Championship. Bruce McLaren was tragically killed in 1970, while testing a Can-Am sportscar, (a series in which the McLaren team had been impressively successful in) but his name has lived on through the team ever since.
Denny Hulme and Teddy Mayer kept the team alive for the next seasons, and the superbly designed M23 led Emerson Fittipaldi to the team’s first Drivers’ and Constructors’ Titles. James Hunt also won the title for the team in 1976, beating Niki Lauda by just one point. The team finished in the top three of the championship every year between 1972 and 1977, but by the end of the decade were off the pace and languished in the lower half of the standings.
McLaren entered a new era in 1981, as the team merged with Ron Dennis’ Project Four Formula Two team. The team moved to a new base in Woking – now known as the McLaren Technology Centre – and slowly began gaining momentum once again. After a brief stint with McLaren in 1980, Alain Prost re-joined in 1984, alongside the experienced Niki Lauda. Lauda took the title in 1984, and Prost took the honours for the next two years. In 1986 and 1987, the team held second place in the Constructors’ Championship, behind the dominant Williams team.
In 1988, McLaren would switch to Honda power and enter their most successful era. Prost was joined by Ayrton Senna, and their rivalry became a thing of legend. In 1988, the team won fifteen of the sixteen Grands Prix, and Senna took his first title. By 1989, the rivalry had become personal, and the title was decided in explosive fashion at the Japanese Grand Prix. The pair ran into each other at the final chicane, and the title was eventually handed to Prost following a controversial disqualification for Senna. The Frenchman left the team at the end of the year and Senna was unrivalled by new team-mate Gerhard Berger for the Drivers’ Title for the next two seasons. Williams became the dominant team in 1992, and Honda parted ways with McLaren for 1993. 1993 marked Ayrton Senna’s last season with the team, which was memorable for an emphatic victory for the Brazilian at the European Grand Prix.
With Senna gone, Mika Hakkinen joined the team in 1994. A near-fatal crash in Adelaide the following season didn’t put the Finn off, and he remained faithful to the team until the end of his career. After the 1993 season with Ford power and the 1994 season with Peugeot engines, McLaren started a long relationship with Mercedes in 1995. Finishing fourth for the first three years of their partnership, McLaren Mercedes became champions in 1998, as Hakkinen’s long wait for title glory finally paid off. Remarkably, this was to be the only Constructors’ Championship win for McLaren Mercedes, and McLaren’s latest to date. Hakkinen won the drivers’ crown once again in 2000, but Ferrari had become the dominant force and took the teams’ title.
McLaren finished second or third in the title hunt for the first seven years of the new millennium, with the exception of 2004, where the team struggled with reliability issues. Over these years, David Coulthard was the team’s experienced driver, with the young Kimi Raikkonen having replaced Hakkinen in 2002. McLaren nurtured the Finn’s obvious talent, and he put up his first title charge in 2003, finishing as runner-up with just two less points than Michael Schumacher. Coulthard left the team in 2005, and was replaced by Juan Pablo Montoya. Raikkonen challenged for the title again that year, but finished runner-up to Fernando Alonso. More reliability issues in 2006 saw the team slip from second to third overall.
With Kimi Raikkonen leaving for Ferrari and Juan Pablo Montoya out of Formula One mid-2006, the McLaren team had two spaces to fill. They employed reigning champion Fernando Alonso and young star Lewis Hamilton, who made his F1 début with the team. This pairing led to 2007 being one of McLaren’s most infamous years since the Senna and Prost days. Alonso’s seeming frustration with not being given number one status came to a head during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, where the Spaniard purposefully prevented Hamilton from setting a fast lap. The season would end with the pair level on points, but Raikkonen had beaten them to the title by just a solitary point. Off-track, things were just as dramatic that season as McLaren found themselves in the centre of an espionage controversy, more commonly referred to as SpyGate. The team were found guilty of being in possession of confidential technical information belonging to the Ferrari team, and were excluded from the 2007 Constructors’ Championship and fined $100 million.
In 2008, Alonso was replaced by Heikki Kovalaianen, and Lewis Hamilton won the title with the team at the last corner of the last lap of the season, following a season long battle with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. This is the last time McLaren won a Drivers’ Title. McLaren were once again beaten by Ferrari to the Constructors’ honours. In 2009, the team struggled to get up to speed and won just two Grands Prix, with Hamilton taking victory in Hungary and Singapore. Ron Dennis retired from his position as Team Principal ahead of the 2009 season, and his place was taken by Martin Whitmarsh.
For 2010, McLaren became an all-British team as recently-crowned World Champion Jenson Button joined Hamilton. Their partnership was a successful one, with plenty of wins over the next three seasons. Both Hamilton and Button came close to the title in 2010, with Hamilton still in contention at the final race of the year. In 2011, Button finished runner up in the title hunt before the pair finished fourth and fifth in the final 2012 standings. Jenson Button’s win at the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix remains McLaren’s last F1 victory.
In 2013, Hamilton moved to Mercedes leaving open a vacancy for young Mexican Sergio Perez, who had impressed in the previous season. McLaren’s 2013 machinery wasn’t up to the standard of its predecessors, and the team finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, without scoring a podium through the whole season. Whitmarsh was ousted from his role as Team Principal and Ron Dennis rejoined the track side team, alongside Eric Bouiller, who became McLaren’s racing director. Kevin Magnussen was brought in to replace Perez for 2014, and impressed on début, finishing in second – with Button in third. This was to be a false dawn for the team, though, who failed to muster another podium finish that season. Magnussen returned to his reserve driver role at the end of the season.
There was plenty of hype surrounding the team ahead of the 2015 season, as two old friends re-joined the team. The first was Honda, as the team’s engine supplier, and the second was Fernando Alonso. Alonso was forced to sit out the first race of the season due to a crash in winter testing, and from there, the team struggled. The Honda power unit was simply not fast, and not reliable. The team finished ninth in the Constructors’ standings – their worst season since 1980. There were some improvements in 2016, which saw Alonso and Button regularly able to battle for points, but there was still a long way to go for the Honda engine.
It was a year of yet more disappointment for McLaren in 2017 as Honda once again failed to deliver, leading to a breakdown in relations between the team and the engine manufacturer. There were, as we’ve come to expect, some highlights from Alonso – setting the fastest lap in Q1 at Silverstone and setting the fastest race lap on his way to sixth in Budapest. Honda’s unreliability meant that McLaren were dogged by grid penalties for an overuse of engine parts from as early as the fourth round of the season. The beginning of the end for the McLaren Honda partnership was clear from the very beginning of winter testing in 2017, and so it transpired over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, as McLaren announced a new partnership with Renault for 2018.
Predicting where McLaren will finish the 2018 season is a difficult task. ‘The best chassis’ is a claim that had been thrown around a lot by the team in recent seasons, and the true test of that will come this season. If the Renault engine settles in the McLaren with little teething trouble, there should be no reason why the Woking-based team won’t challenge Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship. Fernando Alonso is already talking up his chances of winning the championship.
McLAREN’s RECENT F1 HISTORY
|2010||2nd (454 points)||5||1||Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button|
|2011||2nd (497 points)||6||1||Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button|
|2012||3rd (378 points)||7||8||Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button|
|2013||5th (122 points)||0||0||Jenson Button, Sergio Perez|
|2014||5th (181 points)||0||0||Jenson Button, Kevin Magnussen|
|2015||9th (27 points)||0||0||Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button|
|2016||6th (76 points)||0||0||Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button|
|2017||9th (30 points)||0||0||Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne|
|2018||Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne|