On the day where championship challengers Mercedes and Ferrari presented their new cars, the limelight was stolen by a papaya coloured McLaren being accidentally revealed by a gust of wind. Rewind five days, and a whole saga has played out leaving us with the question: what is going on at McLaren?
The saga began on Sunday, when an image of a McLaren truck was seen on the road to Catalunya.
Spotted by a fan… McLaren's trucks are on their way to Catalunya!
— Lights Out ●●●●● (@LightsOutF1Blog) February 18, 2018
It was later all but confirmed by a McLaren team member that the truck was in fact heading to the Navarra Circuit for a filming day on Thursday:
Sure enough, on Wednesday, a Renault truck was spotted at the circuit, appearing to confirm that McLaren’s filming day – their first with Renault power – would be happening as planned on Thursday.
En Navarra, para el filming day de Mclaren mañana pic.twitter.com/PZd2BvdGnf
— Oksana ?? (@Oksana_Anuska) February 21, 2018
However, before 8am local time on Thursday, the McLaren truck was seen leaving the circuit.
Ojo! Puede que fuera ayer el filming! Los camiones de Mclaren se van! pic.twitter.com/u3GgduLrew
— uVe (@MigueluVe) February 22, 2018
The person who tweeted this picture also tweeted a video, in which he said that he’d been planning to take photos of the new car on track, but an official from the circuit had told him to leave as there would be no on-track action.
So what happened?
Was the filming day cancelled in a similar vein to last year’s planned shakedown at Silverstone? Was the filming day actually yesterday and McLaren tricked any paparazzi into going to the circuit a day late? Or was there never a filming day planned and the whole saga has been an intricate ruse?
Just a few hours later another picture emerged, this time of the brand new McLaren car being loaded onto the truck at the nearby Pamplona Airport. The protective cover had been blown off the car by a gust of wind:
No hubo sorpresa. El McLaren MCL33 es color butano pic.twitter.com/GVC1p2vYEX
— Virutas de Goma™ (@VirutasF1) February 22, 2018
The plane it was unloaded from – an Antonov An-26, built some time between 1969 and 1986 – had arrived from Birmingham Airport. According to a post on reddit, the image was originally leaked by the airport’s official twitter account before being hastily removed. Suspiciously good timing from the photographer though…
It would appear that the McLaren and Renault trucks had been at the track, but they had not had the car with them, leaving them unable to film anything. Had the car not been finished in time for the filming day to go ahead quite as planned? Or had this all been planned out?
There was applause from the gathered crowd when the truck arrived back at the track shortly before midday local time:
Llegada del camión con el Mclaren al circuito pic.twitter.com/0iqkk1ff9Q
— uVe (@MigueluVe) February 22, 2018
Meanwhile, McLaren have played along with the accidental reveal, saying they were ‘blown away’ by the love of the new colour scheme:
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) February 22, 2018
Back at the track, the car was off-loaded from the truck, leading to more spy shots:
McLaren llega al Circuito de Navarra. Presentación mundial este viernes desde las 8 de la mañana a puerta cerrada. pic.twitter.com/OWP0UX8t9h
— Cadena SER Navarra (@SERnavarra) February 22, 2018
There were plenty of people around the circuit for the rest of the day, and by all accounts the car never made it out on track. It has been suggested that the filming day has been pushed back to Friday, though the reasoning is unclear.
Could it be that there’s a technical issue with the car which is preventing the team from running?
Could it be that McLaren don’t want more spy images of their car to be released so have postponed the filming day until after the official launch of the car? (Rumours suggest that McLaren have pushed back the track day until tomorrow for that exact reason)
Or has it all been part of a brilliant marketing ploy by Zak Brown and his team to get people talking about McLaren on the day when we were supposed to be talking about Mercedes and Ferrari?
If it’s the latter, it’s a stroke of genius. The full car will be revealed at 7am (UK time) on Friday.
After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. The blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics. Nicky also writes at F1Destinations, Motorsport Guides and WTF1. In 2017 and 2018, he wrote for Badger GP. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast.