#F1 Features: What went wrong with McLaren 2012? Part I

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.

Jenson and Lewis 2009

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…

29 responses to “#F1 Features: What went wrong with McLaren 2012? Part I

  1. Interesting analysis. Always nice to get varied perspectives…

    Did His Hippo-taming Honour see that Joe Seward recently published a savage rant in which he questioned the legitimacy of this Court and others like it?

    The Judge is criticized by name (“Judge”, I mean…) in the comments to the piece as well!!

    I suggested Joe not be so adversarial but idk if he even read my comment or deleted it.

    I think he’d be found in Contempt!

    • *Hippo grabs gun*. Where did Joe Sewage decry us? Can you give us a link, joe?
      I’ve been in an argument with the idiot lately and on top of that he’s stealing off our news. That guy’s starting to annoy me…

      • blog post:


        comment excerpt:

        “…david de vries
        More often than not that certain ‘Judge’ is right on the money.

        on January 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm | ReplyIanC
        You can believe what you want to believe.

        on January 21, 2014 at 8:15 pm | ReplyJoe Saward
        You can, but does that make you right?

        on January 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm | ReplyWoofus
        Momma. The man with the gavel had The Kimi to Ferrari story 2 days after the Hungarian GP.

        Probably a Lucky guess…

        Joe Saward
        No. The resentment comes because these rank amateurs attack me which you don’t get to read. I’m tired of these arrogant twerps who don’t know what they don’t know. End of story…”

      • and for the record here was my comment:

        “Joe Papp
        Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        Just some friendly advice/feedback from one Joe to another – publish or delete per your preference.

        Firstly, if you believe that “amateurs” are genuinely threatening your ability to make a living by writing about F1 from what they seek to portray as a privileged position without actually having access or evidence (a reasonable complaint, unfortunately, as the internet has obliterated the barriers of entry to journalism in all forms, including “TV”/video), the last thing you should do is publish a rant about it, because the effect is the opposite: you legitimize those who you criticize – like the Judge – while undermining your own credibility (and you don’t see James Allen railing against bloggers).

        Secondly, past performance is generally the best (and only reliable) predictor of future behavior, and while Mansoor Ijaz has recorded documented successes in finance, ‘media commentary’ and informal “diplomacy”, his record in securing funding for investment in Formula 1 is one of absolute, abject, brutally-documented failure, 100% attributable to his own egotistical blabbing over many months about the inevitability of the very deal that was just formally cancelled. As Lotus and Genii themselves say, if funding does materialize, it will be a welcome bonus, but seeking to defend your own cheerleading by defending Ijaz’s dealings (black propaganda? really?) won’t pay-off in the long-run. Again, you don’t see James Allen uncritically reporting on the minutiae of a failed deal in such a way as to appear to defend one of the protagonists.

        Anyway, good luck going forward.”

        • The Hippo answered:

          OK, Mr. Saward, Challenge accepted! The only one, who qualifies for the title of ‘Norris Bonehead of Dunstable’ here is you. Your only source is google and stealing news off other sites and your reasoning in recent articles is about as logical as a woman’s reasoning at the height of her period.
          I’ve been a ‘doer’ at TJ13 for quite a while now, and even if you have no understanding of the concept of umlauts, I post under my real name, so do most others. That our host post under a nom de plume has a simple reason. Unlike you, he actually has sources within the business and doesn’t want to put them in an untenable position, because useless hacks like you would jump on them like a pack o’ dogs on a three-legged cat if their names became public knowledge.
          All contributers at TJ13 are volunteers , who do that out of a love for the sport. None of us does it to earn a living or have a fap over how important we are, but we certainly aren’t going to take abuse from pathological failures like you.

          • Before you get confused. Joe sewage, accused the ‘doers’ of TJ13 of posting anonymously

          • Ouch! But hey, idk why he had such a go at you in the first place.

            I also fail to understand his reasoning behind this odd claim:

            “A failed lawsuit in New York
            January 23, 2014 by Joe Saward

            You may have read about in places that Bernie Ecclestone has “won” a lawsuit in the US regarding the sale of the Formula One group to CVC Capital Partners back in 2005. This is a rather “spun” version of the truth. In reality, the “victory” is only over the question of jurisdiction…”

            Last time I checked, a court’s ruling that it had no standing to hear your case was considered a “victory” simply by virtue of the fact that it brought your case to a screeching halt in that jurisdiction!

            Full decision:


          • Why he has such a go at us is simple. He does it to earn money, we do it for free out of the love for the sport. We threaten his revenue and we have the stories earlier than he does. We expose him as the clueless idiot he is.

          • Danilo, no offense, but I don’t believe such an ad hominem message will have done much good. Your message is almost a hallmark example of the modern “interwebs flaming” that you’ve generally argued (and even in this message are arguing) against. If anything, this will stimulate Saward’s admittedly childish behaviour.

            I also think it strongly misrepresents the generally mature conversations and critical conversations we have on here – it sets a very bad example. The message would have been more convincing if it had stuck with the facts instead of expressing frustration through a highly condescending tone.

            Just to be clear, I’m firmly in TJ13’s “camp” (for the lack of a better word). But surely TJ readers and editors alike should stand above this type of behaviour? Even on the web, maturity often prevails 😉

          • Auq, I know what you mean, but please keep in mind that the ad hominem attack originated with JS and publicly, too. I thought I’d let him know that we can stoop to that level, too if necessary. 😉

  2. “and your reasoning in recent articles is about as logical as a woman’s reasoning at the height of her period” Objection, m’lud, Objection !!

    Come on Danilo, that sort of sexist remark went out with the Bernard Mannings of this world, there is no to need to resort to that sort of tripe.

    • Hi silver 🙂
      I was thinking this was in poor taste too,when i read it this morning.
      Not that im against kicking JS from time to time,just not with remarks like this.

  3. To all above, as much as I would like to join the TJ lynch mob, I rather stick to one of the most important lessons of my life:

    “an eye for an eye will leave everyone blind”

    • Enzo, “lynch mob”? Really?

      Including you, there are like four of us here who’ve posted (either late at night or early in AM)…lol.

      • Well, Danilo is a one man army, believe me!
        I’m sure You’re familiar with the famous Mark Twain quote:
        “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience”.

        Case closed 😉

        • “Well, Danilo is a one man army, believe me!” < – – – Touché!!

          I concede the point.

          One question regarding Macca – who will get "credit" for bringing Honda to McLaren for 2015? Whitmarsh, or Dennis? And where does Sam Michael fit into all this, since his track record seems to be one of consistent decline in performance over the long-term for the teams he's "directed".

        • Indeed, it is interesting how Hamilton ended up leaving as did Alonso. If Kimi didn’t want to return in 2010 that also says something.. Kimi could have won a lot of races in 2010/12 in the front running McLaren. But 2012 would have been a repeat of 2005… and 2010 possibly 2003.

        • And if Alonso doesn’t want to rejoin either (despite advances by the now shuffled Whitmarsh), they are stuck with Button to satisfy Honda’s demands for a top WDC winning driver to lead the team.

          The only guys who can replace him are thus the juniors, Kevin and Stoffel, as shown in the team launch today. They’ve jettisoned Perez and thanked him for the 5m Euros.. Refused to take Di Resta multiple times.. Dennis won’t bring Hamilton back most likely.. I’m thinking the only guy they could pick up with that front running pace would be Hulkenberg, if Ferrari opt for their own juniors to replace their WDC drivers..

          Unless of course Honda agree to all spends going on the car and juniors saving them salary cash? Could even Ferrari do similar to match RB’s car spend? This could be important, if overall team budgets are capped from 2015 onwards (and reduce each year thereafter).

      • I think among all the people constantly complaining about RB dominance, it is often forgotten just how good the 2012 Macca was. How they managed not to win both titles that year is a spectacular achievement in itself, albeit a not very flattering one, I suppose.

        • I wonder if we could see McLaren losing 2014, with a similar front running car, with Button, even if Magnussen is basically playing second fiddle all season long. He won in the Brawn, but I could see McLaren being caught by RB like RB did in 2009 (but now more refined.. see 2011, 12, 13 season ends), especially after McLaren’s 2013. Turning that around is their main problem for this year.

  4. Hi Adam, great idea, can’t wait to see how you dissect the flying fail that became the 2012 season. Personally I think that Montreal is where it all changed. Plenty of folks think that the collision was Lewis’ fault, but I would swear if you watch closely you would see Button looking in his mirrors before contact was made. And Lewis *was* quicker at that point.

    I know he accepted blame for the collision, but I think the reality was much more complicated and you’re correct, it was the first time Lewis realized how under threat he was from Button, not in driving terms, but politically.

    • I agree absoulutely.
      Mclaren became polarised under Withmarsh. His blind love for Button fostered an environment where like minded team members were going out of their way to short change Hamilton during the Pit stops. It defies all belief in bad luck that for six or so races in a row, Hamilton had multiple pit stop issues, like wise race strategy blunders.
      To confound fans further, Withmarsh went on to state, “I am not bothered about the pit stops, I am worried about why our car is slow”, meanwhile, the points Mclaren were haemorrhaging due to these blunders was dropping them out of the constructors’ and drivers’ championships.
      Withmarsh was more interested in Button coming out ahead than for Mclaren to succeed. Ultimately they squandered what could have been the strongest Mclaren pairing since Alonso-Hamilton.

      • “His blind love for Button fostered an environment where like minded team members were going out of their way to short change Hamilton during the Pit stops” <- – – – – whoa, whaaat?

        See, this is what I find so distasteful about the sniping at Whitmarsh and servility towards Dennis: even if Whitmarsh did have a soft-spot for Button, why would that lead him to actively work to undermine Hamilton?

        I mean, at worst I would hope Whitmarsh was just guilty of incompetently/ineffectively managing the relationship b/w team and drivers, but actively seeking to damage Hamilton to favor Button? How would Whitmarsh benefit from the inevitable outcome?

        Those are very serious allegations, no?

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