Brought to you by thejudge13 reporter Adam Macdonald
In the first of two articles, the McLaren 2012 season is examined. For me, it is a year where all the problems of recent times became apparent.
“All’s well that ends well” is one of many phrases given to us by Shakespeare which has stood the test of time to still be in use in the English language today. Of course, there are many fine examples of where the expression rings true; however, McLaren 2012 is not one of them.
At the time, so much was made of book ending the season with Jenson Button winning in Australia and Brazil, leaving the question begging what happened in between. Setup issues and poor reliability cost results throughout the season, eventually costing the team 2nd in the World Constructors Championship. Although, to go with another Shakespeare quote, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark,” the problem at Woking (Denmark) went way further back than just between March-November 2012.
2 into 1 doesn’t go
After the example of 2007, it seems McLaren did not learn the lessons of the past. My report begins in November 2009, where Ross Brawn sold 75% of Brawn GP to Mercedes. At the same time the German manufacturer sold its 40% share in McLaren – paving the way for the man from Frome to move to the Woking setup.
Having been promised a £4 million McLaren F1 LM if he won back to back titles by Ron Dennis back in March 2008, Lewis Hamilton now found himself with a genuine competitor. For the second time in his career, Hamilton would be paired with the previous year’s World Champion, only this time he was more experienced. Lightning couldn’t strike twice could it?
Immediately, McLaren were faced with having the strongest drive pairing on the grid into a season where they would be much more competitive than they had been in 2009. Hamilton and Button were the first World Championship pairing since Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989 (incidentally, also for McLaren). Heikki Kovalainen had done a job, but ultimately had not performed at the expected level in his 2 seasons with just 1 win being delivered. Whatever your opinion of Jenson’s 2009 WDC, he carried with him the no.1 on the front of the car which demanded respect.
The policy of not having a no.1 driver was not a problem, as long as a new arrival did not upset the apple cart as it were. Lewis Hamilton spoke of how some of his Championship winning engineers were reassigned to Jenson. Instantaneously, what kind of a sign did this send Hamilton?
Whether Button has been McLaren’s first choice still remains debatable. David Robertson, Kimi Raikkonen’s manager, still maintains that the Finn had turned down the opportunity to return to McLaren for 2010 after being forced out of Ferrari, while other reports claimed Button turned down a doubling in salary to stay with the Brackley based team.
2010 flies by
29th January saw the MP4-25 launched before the 1st February testing began in Valencia. Nothing notable from there, but Jenson Button set the fastest time on the final day on the 3rd test at Jerez. Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap-time of the weekend at the final test at Barcelona. The mood was positive at Woking.
An early win for Jenson in Australia was not followed up in Malaysia. In fact, no driver who won a race in 2010 had been leading the Drivers’ World Championship prior to the respective race. Jenson picked up a further race win in China as his Championship defence briefly was given hope.
These would be Jenson’s only victories of the season as Lewis picked up 3 at Turkey, Canada and Belgium (although Jenson took 2nd in both Turkey and Canada). The rest is history as McLaren were never genuine title contenders as it entered the final stage of the season, even though Hamilton had enjoyed a 14 point lead following the German GP and had lead by 3 following the Belgian GP.
2011 – The boy becomes the man
Until now, Lewis had been the golden boy with seemingly the world at his feet. However, this was all about to change. The foundations of Lewis’ success were ripped away from him in a matter of months.
Partly his own doing, sacking his father and damaging that relationship as well as a split from long-term girlfriend, Nicole Schertzinger, left him vulnerable. The tumultuous time he was subjected to following a series of poor results and collisions with Felipe Massa (and others) left him out in the cold, and for the first time in his career, on the back foot.
One incident stands out for me, at the Canadian Grand Prix which I covered before in my article on team radio use. A (still) young man who was having a tough time, returned to the garage only to be told to go and sit on the naughty step. There was no sympathy from Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh or Sam Michael. Instead, Hamilton trundled off to Christian Horner for a shoulder to cry on.
Times like these are when you really get an idea of what you mean to the other person or group. Being pushed away at arm’s length by the team doesn’t exactly send the correct message. Meanwhile, Jenson Button was offered a 4 year £40 million contract for his performances. Once again, what kind of a message did it send giving one driver a £2 million a year pay rise as the other continued to struggle.
At the time, “‘I’ve never felt more at home at a team than I do at McLaren. I’ve won four of the greatest races of my life here, I’m currently lying second in the drivers’ world championship, and I feel that I’m driving better than ever.”
The key factor there feeling ‘at home’ within the team. Button has muscled in on the party and for the first time in his Formula One career, Hamilton was being faced with being beaten by a teammate. Whitmarsh went as far to speak of Button in an ambassadorial role for McLaren when he eventually retires.
Button went on to finish 2nd continuing to impress until the end of the season. Given that the Red Bull was so dominant, with the only non-Bed Bull or McLaren victory coming at Silverstone, for Fernando Alonso when the off-throttle blown diffusers were banned for one race controversially, it could be argued that there were few challengers. Either way, Jenson was consistent which is always important, even if the gap between Champion and 2nd was a record (at the time) 122 points.
to be continued…